In a story published in Saturday’s LNP, staff writer Jeff Hawkes wrote of his experience riding in the buggy of a Paradise Township Amish farmer on Route 30. The farmer asked to be identified only by his last name, Stoltzfus, because the Old Order Amish community shies from publicity. Stoltzfus allowed Hawkes to accompany him on his weekly 7-mile trip — 6 of those miles on Route 30 — to a discount grocery store. Two of Stoltzfus’ six children, ages 5 and nearly 3, joined their father on his errand.
Stoltzfus, an organic farmer and farrier — who shoes horses and provides hoof care, has never been in a crash while driving his horse and buggy. But, as Hawkes wrote, he’s had near-misses.
“There’s always stuff like, ‘Wow! Are my wheels still both on?’ ” he said. “Obviously, if you keep on thinking about that, you’d stay in bed.”
We can relate to that.
Here’s the difference: When we have a near-miss in our motor vehicles, no one questions our right to be on the road. The same does not go for Amish drivers of horses and buggies.
Consider some of the comments made about Hawkes’ story on Facebook:
— “Can’t they hire a driver? It’s not like (most) Amish don’t have the money to do so. If it’s a safety issue, then don’t put your life or your horse at risk and hire a driver.”
— “I have seen buggies on Rt. 30 the HIGHWAY where the speed limit is 55 mph. Very dangerous. Please ... take an Amish taxi. This is so dangerous, cruel to the poor horse, and likely to be fatal for everyone.”
— “I can’t possibly believe he has to travel 6 miles on Rt 30. Use the back roads when you can. it is your choice!!!”
And those were among the kindest of the negative comments.
We’ve stated our concerns about horses and buggies in previous editorials. We think they ought to be licensed, as motor vehicles are. We believe children riding in buggies need to be in child safety seats. And we believe Amish buggy drivers should heed the rules of the road, as we all must.
But we don’t question their very right to be on the road. The Amish are our neighbors. They aren’t just part of our community — they’re part of who we are as a community. They are part of the identity and character of Lancaster County. They ought to be allowed to get around in a manner that accords with their traditions and beliefs.
It’s easy for us to assume that an Amish family can afford to pay a driver to convey them to the grocery store once a week. But how do we know? Why would it be our business to know?
Here’s what we do know: We all could stand to slow down when we drive. We don’t suggest traveling 7 miles in 50 minutes — as Stoltzfus did on his buggy trip with Hawkes — but everyone would be safer if motorists didn’t race from one destination to the next.
Ever watch vehicles exiting from any of the outlets on Route 30? The phrase "bats out of hell" comes to mind.
Hawkes wrote of the scare Stoltzfus experienced at one intersection. His standardbred horse, Sparky, “trotting along the berm, had a green light and started to cross Ronks Road. Suddenly, a car heading in the same direction flew past on the left and abruptly turned right, directly in the horse’s path. The car sped north on Ronks Road.” Sparky “never broke stride,” Hawkes noted.
“Some people don’t think,” Stoltzfus said.
He’s right. Too many of us don’t.
Stoltzfus was aware of how motorists viewed his horse and buggy. “I guess it kind of irritates some people to find a slow horse in their lane,” he observed.
After he said this, a car passed “uncomfortably close” to his buggy, Hawkes wrote.
“Two feet is not enough to pass a carriage,” Stoltzfus said. “It might be a good idea to wait if there’s not enough room.”
It would not just be a good idea, but the best idea.
A pamphlet prepared last year by Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health and others offered advice on how to drive in Amish country. It’s very sound advice: “Slow down when approaching and passing horse-drawn buggies. Leave plenty of room to pass where it is safe and allow at least 20 feet in front of the horse before returning to the travel lane.”
Stoltzfus said this of motorists: “I realize I’m on the road at a much higher risk that you are, but I don’t expect any favors. We go by the same rules that you guys do.”
He told Hawkes he dislikes it when a motorist with the right of way slows and motions for him to proceed from a stop sign. “Other drivers might not see what’s happening,” Hawkes noted. “A crash could result.”
We must admit: We’re more likely to be chomping at the bit when we find ourselves in traffic with a horse and buggy than to be motioning for the buggy driver to proceed.
It is one thing to preach about the imperative to patiently share the road not just with horses and buggies but with bicyclists and other motorists. It’s another thing to actually practice safe and patient driving when we’re late to a meeting or to pick up our kids from school.
Driving behind or alongside a horse and buggy worries us — and even annoys us — sometimes, too.
But perhaps we ought to view the horse and buggy as a reminder to slow down.
Life in the fast lane isn’t all that enjoyable. Or safe. That at least we could learn from our Amish neighbors.