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Fatal horse drawn buggy accident raises awareness of a serious problem

A deadly accident involving a tractor trailer and an Amish horse-drawn carriage should be raising awareness amongst drivers throughout Pennsylvania and Ohio. The accident is just one of at least six in PA that have taken place since the beginning of October. In that time, several people have been injured and four have died.

The most recent accident took place in Mercer Country on Saturday, injuring one and killing two people. One of the victims was an eleven-year-old girl. The other victim was her thirty-four-year-old mother. The person injured was the woman's husband and girl's father. He was Life-Flighted to St. Elizabeth's Health Center in Youngstown where he was reported to still be in critical condition as of Monday. The family was of Amish heritage and were lifelong residents of New Wilmington. The condition of the truck driver was not reported.

Pennsylvania State Police said that the commercial freightliner hit the rear end of the horse-drawn buggy around 4:30 p.m. on Pulaski-Mercer Road in New Wilmington on Saturday. Police say that the commercial truck, which is built to be fitted with a trailer but was not hauling one at the time of the accident, was heading westbound at least a half hour before the sun set, ruling out the likelihood that the driver failed to see the buggy until the last second.

Five years ago, PennDoT and PA State Police developed the Horse and Buggy Driver's Manual. The booklet was written in part with lawmakers, the state police, PennDoT, and members of Pennsylvania's Amish communities.

The booklet opens simply, with a message to other Amish horse-drawn buggy drivers: "Now, more than ever, we, as horse and buggy drivers, need to be careful and observe the basic rules of safety when traveling on today's busy roads." The booklet has raised awareness amongst the Amish about operating their horse-drawn carriages in modern society. It also makes its readers well aware of PA state laws and driving regulations, as well as offering tips and advice to new and seasoned drivers alike.

In Amish tradition, the booklet continues: "Being respectful and courteous on the road is an excellent opportunity for us, in our small way, to be a light to the world. Let us not darken it by being inconsiderate to our fellow travelers and demanding our rights." Some of the booklet's tips include lighted blinkers that are powered by energy generated from the buggy's wheels and reflective stickers that make the buggies more noticeable in the dark.

State laws require buggies that are driven at night to have headlights, blinkers, and reflective stickers. In addition, under PA state law, all horse-drawn buggies should have the SMV (slow-moving vehicle) emblem attached to the back. And although a 2003 Superior Court ruling ruled against the SMV emblem law for a particular sect of Amish in the eastern part of the state, most Amish groups recognize it not just as the law, but as a way to keep them, their families, and their beloved horses safe. While it is not yet known if Saturday's victims' buggy had the SMV emblem or reflective stickers attached to it, New Wilmington's board of supervisors chairman said that most, if not all, local Amish use blinkers and reflective triangles on their buggies.

The number of animal-drawn buggy accidents varies from year to year in Pennsylvania. In 2003, there were fifty-six such crashes reported. Just three years later, however, there were seventy-eight accidents reported. PennDoT reports that there were sixty-four accidents reported last year in 2012.

Over the past ten years, Lancaster County in eastern PA has led the way with 291 reported accidents. Mifflin County was second with thirty-five and Mercer and Crawford counties have each had thirty-one accidents in that time period. Since the beginning of October, there have been two other buggy-involved accidents that were fatal. The other two accidents both happened in eastern PA where a twenty-one-year-old Lancaster County woman was killed when a tractor trailer ran into the back of her horse-drawn carriage and a twenty-seven-year-old Berks County Mennonite woman was killed when a sport utility vehicle struck the rear end of her horse-drawn buggy. In addition to the four deaths since October 1, eight people have been injured.

Throughout Pennsylvania and Ohio, the Amish share our roads and navigate our throughways. It is important that we treat them with the respect and dignity of any other driver on the road. Be aware of your surroundings when you approach an animal-drawn carriage and be sure it's safe to pass before making any moves. Often times, the Amish will slow down and wave you on; proceed slowly with caution as you pass and be careful not to drive too closely to the horse. Sharing our roadways with the Amish is not difficult. Speeding past them and riding their rear ends is dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Remember, whatever you're in a hurry for can wait.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Fatal crash shows perils of Amish buggies on Pa. roads" 2 December 2013

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