PHOTO BY RANDY FATH
A new law went into effect at the end of August requiring a flashing yellow light on the upper most rear or tops of animal-drawn vehicles to further alert motorists of their presence.
With eyes glued to the curvy narrow country road ahead and fingers curled tightly around the steering wheel when only headlights and the moon pierce the thick darkness of night, a flashing yellow light atop an Amish buggy may be a welcome beacon to motorists navigating parts of Wayne and surrounding counties.
Making Ohio’s public roads safer is the idea behind House Bill 30 that was signed last year by Gov. Mike DeWine and took effect at the end of August. Over four months later, Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers continue to educate, and they have begun to write tickets to enforce the law.
In Wayne County, from the beginning of 2017 through to the beginning of December 2022, buggies were reported as being involved in 161 crashes.
According to ODPS Electronic Crash System, 21 buggy-related crashes were in 2022 with property damage reported in 12, one had a possible injury, seven had minor injury and one had a serious injury. A fatal crash was reported in 2017. In 2019, 41 buggy-related crashes were reported. The number dropped to 17 in 2020 and then rose up to 28 in 2021. Statistics show crashes increase during rush hour with numbers increasing at 5 and 6 a.m. and the majority of the 161 crashes occurred at 6 p.m. Statistics also show the number of crashes going up at 9 p.m.
House Bill 30 was sponsored by Reps. Scott Wiggam (R-Wayne County) and Darrell Kick (R-Loudonville) to clarify the law governing slow-moving vehicles and revising the lighting and reflective material requirements applicable to animal-drawn vehicles, according to governor.ohio.gov.
A yellow flashing light visible 1,000 feet away is required mounted on either the topmost portion of the rear of the animal-drawn vehicle or on the top of the vehicle.
“Many of Ohio’s districts, including our own, are home to rural communities that travel by animal-drawn buggies,” Wiggam said in a Feb. 11, 2020 news release available at ohiohouse.gov. “As a result, these individuals are not as visible as traditional vehicles and this poses a risk to both parties. This bill aims to increase the safety of citizens who travel by both traditional cars and animal-drawn buggies. This is good legislation that will save both Amish lives and English tears.”
Previously, animal-drawn vehicles were only required to display light on the front and back of the vehicle and had the option to display reflective tape or a “slow-moving vehicle” emblem.
“We’ve looked at this issue for many years and have kept an open dialogue throughout,” Kick said in the release. “After consulting with the Amish, English, and law enforcements communities, we have decided it is time to update our laws. With new technology, we can implement changes that are less intrusive to religious freedoms, yet promote safety across the board for all Ohioans.”
OSHP dispatchers commonly take phone calls for complaints of a variety of traffic violations and reports of animal-drawn vehicles without the required flashing light now join the mix. Both the OSHP and Wayne County Sheriff’s Office provided a grace period while educating communities about House Bill 30. They are still receiving some pushback in areas but officials continue to spread the word and enforce. Arguably, change isn’t easy, but House Bill 30, and another bill which was signed into law last week to strengthen laws related to cell phone use while driving – Senate Bill 288 – both aim to make roads safer.
Lt. Todd Roberts, commander of the Wooster post of the Ohio Highway Patrol, said since the law took effect he has had a couple of meetings in Kidron with senior members from the local Amish communities regarding the new law.
Amish community members have opportunities to learn about new laws at health and safety events, which take place at different locations and involve various agencies including fire and law enforcement, medical and emergency management. This past year, the event was in August in Winesburg and attendants had the opportunity to learn about the new law and bring the information back to their individual churches.
Roberts said more travelers on the roads have been complying with the new law. Some drivers of horse-drawn vehicles who do not have the flashing lights have told troopers when stopped that they are following orders of their bishops who do not permit them to install the lights.
Drivers of animal-drawn vehicles seemed to get on board right away in Holmes County and were even complying before the law took effect. But law enforcement officers have seen some resistance in Wayne County, especially in Kidron and West Salem, as well as neighboring Ashland County. Some members of the community asked Roberts about acceptable alternatives to the flashing yellow lights, but Roberts has said it’s not up to him to make the laws only to educate and enforce.
Roberts said the OSHP allowed a grace period while the new rules of the road spread.
“We wanted to make sure we were being fair,” Roberts said.
Around Nov. 1 after two months of educating communities and giving them time to purchase and install the new lights, the OSHP began issuing citations to vehicles they came across without the light. Wayne County has issued 16 citations, and about 50 citations had been issued across the state for violating the new law, Roberts said last week.
He said every day they get phone calls from people who are behind buggies that don’t have a flashing light. At the same time, the agency also receives calls for numerous other violations made by motor vehicles.
“We’re not looking to target the Amish community by any means,” Roberts said.