ARTICLE ON ROAD COLLISIONS
Pennsylvania -- The Lancaster Sunday News carried a story by
Stephen Kopfinger on December 28, 1997:
In the movie "Witness," an Amish buggy is seen moving slowly down a rural road. A moment later, the camera pulls back to reveal a string of cars and trucks behind it, crawling at a glacial pace.
Local audiences chuckled in recognition when that scene opened the 1985 film. Horse-drawn buggies, used by members of Amish and Old Order Mennonite sects, are as common a sight in Lancaster County as hex signs and shoo-fly pie.
And where cars and buggies share the road, there are going to be accidents. It's been that way for years. But some feel the problem is getting worse, as traffic increases, drivers grow more impatient and mishaps involving cars and buggies claim the lives of both Plain people and their worldly, vehicle-driving brethren. Four people have died this year.
Rebecca Huyard, a member of the Amish community, knows the problem well. She's been involved in her share of car/buggy accidents. So have her parents. So have many of her friends.
Huyard's family farm is on Railroad Avenue, just off busy Route 23 in New Holland. The road winds through miles of open farmland, with no stoplights, or traffic-choked intersections. If you're driving a car, it's tempting to defy the 45 mph speed limit and just go tearing along.
Which is exactly what people do, Huyard said.
If the police want to nab their share of speeding drivers, she said, "all they have to do is sit on Railroad Avenue."
Huyard works at the Clinic for Special Children in Strasburg, which means her journeys often take her through the heart of what many would call "Amish country."
It also means dealing with her share of dangerous vehicle drivers. Huyard said it can be a nerve-wracking experience, whether she is driving her own buggy or riding in a car with someone who takes her to work. She said she's not the only one who feels that way.
One of her drivers, a former driving instructor who lived in Kansas and New Jersey before moving here, "said he's never seen such careless driving as he has here," Huyard said. "The risks that people take just appall him."
Numbers tell the story. In 1996, there were 68 accidents involving buggies and motor vehicles in Pennsylvania, 38 in Lancaster County alone, according to Carol Palmoski, senior transportation planner with the Lancaster County Planning Commission.
The accidents happened in 20 out of Lancaster County's 60 municipalities, with Leacock Township leading the list with five car/buggy mishaps.
Although police and state transportation officials do not keep official statistics on the number of car-buggy crashes, some believe the number of accidents is increasing.
Such accidents "continue to be a serious problem, and one that's growing," said Chris Neumann, chief transportation planner with the Planning Commission.
It's become such a concern that the organization commissioned a "non-motorized vehicle study" in February 1993 to analyze the problem. Since then, Neumann said, "experiences have confirmed our concerns."
In other words, things aren't getting any easier for buggy drivers.
Information for 1997 is still being compiled by the commission, but newspaper records show at least eight known accidents this year involving motor vehicles and buggies, causing four fatalities.
Six of the accidents involved collisions between cars and buggies; one, which killed a New Holland woman in February, happened after a sports car slammed head-on into her truck while attempting to pass a buggy.
On Friday, Dec. 12, another New Holland woman was killed when a pickup truck crested a hill, swerved left to avoid a horse and buggy and collided with her vehicle.
"That was so sad," said Huyard of the accident, which happened in Salisbury Township. "And that's the kind of driving I see every day."
Huyard cited a recent Sunday. "Coming back on Railroad Avenue, there were three buggies ahead. One car passed all three buggies at a place where there was no way he could have seen anything coming. I just cringed."
What's going on here?
Buggies were traveling Lancaster County roadways long before cars came along. And when they did, automobile drivers learned how to accommodate their presence. Locals have long been in the habit of crossing a double yellow line in the highway to pass a buggy; technically, state police said, it is legal to do so, as long as there are no "No Passing Zone" signs around.
But Lancaster County isn't the wide-open country it was just a few years ago. Route 30 has always been known for its traffic, but the days when you can drive down rural stretches of road around places like New Holland and see more buggies than cars are coming to a close as well.
Drivers with less patience are becoming more of a problem, too. People are in more of a rush. But roadways filled with traffic, or torn up by construction, make getting almost anywhere in a hurry a frustrating joke these days. Encountering a slow-moving buggy - even one that's driving on the shoulder of the road - often becomes the last straw for those behind the wheel.
One man, who is a member of the Groffdale Old Order Mennonite Church near Bareville and did not wish to be identified, agreed that it isn't as easy to get around by buggy as it used to be.
"We try to stay off Route 23 as much as possible," he said. "It's definitely a lot worse than it was."
Buggy drivers aren't the only ones avoiding traffic-choked Route 23, which connects Lancaster with the New Holland area.
"Our back roads have a lot more traffic," he said. "People who want to go (between) Lancaster and New Holland take the back roads."
Ironically, Huyard feels safer on Route 23 than on some other roads. The very fact that the road is often clogged keeps speeders in check, she believes.
Not so on the more rural Route 322, which connects with Route 23 via Railroad Avenue. Huyard says the speeders are even worse there.
"I'm not nearly as scared on Route 23 as I am on 322," she said. "You don't want to be in a buggy on Route 322. It's not a nice feeling."
Huyard has her own war stories to tell.
Around 1980, a car made a right turn directly in front of her horse, which reared up in fright. "His legs went right down on the hood of the car," Huyard recalled.
Huyard's buggy tilted, but did not overturn. "If it had, I would have been thrown right out onto Route 23," she said.
In 1985, Huyard and several friends were on Route 322 on their way to visit Huyard's sister in Clay, between Ephrata and Brickerville. The constant traffic which kept building up behind her unnerved Huyard, and she finally decided to pull off the road, even though there wasn't an adequate place to pull over.
The horse fell into a pothole, injuring himself. Suddenly, drivers who were too impatient to deal with a buggy in front of them found time to pull over and ask, some quite emotionally, if the horse was dead. He wasn't, but Huyard, with the help of two Amish boys who came upon the accident scene, had to lead him to a nearby farm.
Huyard is not the only one in her family who has had a bad experience. Her parents were involved in two car/buggy accidents, one in 1983 and the other way back in 1964.
Although concerned - Huyard sees things getting worse before they get better - she understands the problem.
"In Lancaster County, you have a clash of slow and fast vehicles in one small
area. It's a clash of cultures."
And that clash isn't confined to this county. The Amish population is spreading out, even over to York County, the Lancaster County Planning Commission's Neumann noted. That means people with relatives in both counties do a lot more traveling, using busy roads like Route 372. Those roads, in turn, are seeing more and more cars and trucks.
Despite her fears, Huyard knows she can't just put her buggy out to pasture. She has places to go, too.
"You just have to get over it," she said. "You try and watch out for yourself and the other person."
Huyard also acknowledges that the Amish can be as much to blame for causing an accident as vehicle operators. Like most young drivers, Amish youths often like to try and beat other people on the road, she says.
"There's two sides to it," she said, citing one Amish boy who was driving his grandparents home from church in the family buggy. "He was passing other carriages," she said. "My mother said that someone should teach him how to drive a horse."
Huyard laughs at the irony that all of this is happening in an area marketed to the world as a peaceful, slow-paced place.
"Oh, forget it," she said. "Not anymore."