GOSHEN — Sharing the roadways are a must but sometimes it can be difficult. That’s why Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers met with (Amish) representatives of the Northern Indiana Safety Association (NISA) to educate operators of carriages and other horse-drawn vehicles to make it safer for everyone on the road.
It was an accident last year near Middlebury involving a pony cart, in which two children were killed, that sparked the necessity for the effort.
“There was a public outcry to make the roads safer for everyone using them,” Sheriff Rogers explained. “We collaborated with the Amish and worked with NISA to facilitate the manual and they worked very hard and we were very serious about it. … Part of the dynamic here is that normally anyone driving a horse drawn vehicle doesn’t have, or need to have a driver’s license.”
The manual covers topics such as courtesy, conduct, lighting, how to care for batteries, rules of the road and the required age of buggy, cart and carriage operators.
“The recommendation is that the buggy or cart operator be at least 10 years of age though you may find you have a smaller 12-year-old that couldn’t necessarily handle a horse,” Sheriff Rogers said. “The manual also talks about using car seats, safely turning at intersections, proper protocol for railroad crossings, school buses, and emergency vehicles.”
Automobile drivers may also find the manual a useful tool as it covers maintaining a safe distance and reminding vehicle drivers that they are dealing with a horse. “Although horses pulling a buggy aren’t typically going to be high-strung, they can be easily spooked,” explained Sheriff Rogers.
Though Nappanee Police Chief Julie Dijkstra reports that the heavily-Amish community has fortunately not had any fatalities or accidents involving buggies in the last three years, Capt. Jim Bradberry of the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department reports 41 collisions — 13 of them causing 19 persons’ injury and one causing fatalities — in the last two years countywide. Of those injured in that time period, five were incapacitating.
In the last year, those numbers fortunately declined as there were only 22 collisions — five of them resulting in injury and only two with incapacitating results. But law enforcement and the Amish community still want those numbers to drop.
“The ultimate goal here is to educate people so the safety measures can be effective,” said Sheriff Rogers. “Most if it is just education and the partnership working together to minimize the risk to the motoring public as well as the Amish community.”
And hopefully it will do just that, as word of the Horse and Buggy Driver’s Manual is quickly spreading. The 34-page guide has been distributed at buggy shops and restaurants that the Amish frequent within the county. Those searching for one (or that would like to take several to distribute) can also stop at the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department office, 26861 C.R. 26, Elkhart, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The publication will be available at no charge.
“With buggy drivers I think its a matter of realizing their visibility and their perception by other drivers,” Sheriff Rogers said. “Part of it too is to educate them by letting them know the motorists’ side of things.”