*This story first appeared in the Nov. 29, 2017 issue of The Budget’s Local Edition.
By Stacey Carmany
Practicing safe driving habits should be a priority for all drivers, but especially those traveling in the local area, where it is not uncommon for vehicles travelling in excess of 55 miles per hour to share roads with horse-drawn buggies moving at speeds of between 5 to 8 miles per hour.
On average, Ohio reports more than 120 buggy crashes per year, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Between January 1, 2016, and as of October 12 of this year, there were 35 traffic involving buggies in Holmes County, of which 18 resulted in injury and three were fatal. During the same time period there were a total of nine crashes in Tuscarawas County, of which four resulted in injury.
The majority of the accidents involving buggies in Tuscarawas County tend to occur in the Sugarcreek area, according to Lt. Mark Glennon of the New Philadelphia Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. He noted, however, that there have also been some accidents in the southern portion of the county, near Newcomerstown. “Right now, I think because Sugarcreek is known for our Amish community, they expect to see them when they’re out in those areas, but what they have to understand is they do travel out and around from those areas also, and they can be in areas that you don’t expect them to be,” he shared.
Most buggy accidents in Tuscarawas County also tend to occur on county roads, according to Lt. Glennon, although drivers should still remain cautious when traveling on state routes. “A lot of our roads out there toward Sugarcreek have been improved to make room for the buggies and be able to accommodate both buggies and cars, but everybody still needs to be cautious when they’re approaching a buggy, because it’s being operated by a person with an animal, and you’re not sure what might spook that animal,” he stated.
Before attempting to pass a buggy, motorists should always make sure they have clear visibility of oncoming traffic, according to Lt. Glennon. In addition, drivers should refrain from revving their engines or honking their horns during passing and always make sure there’s plenty of room between the car and the buggy before cutting back over. “Try to do it as safely as possible, get around them and get ahead of them as soon as possible,” he said. “Just be cautious whenever you’re going around the buggy or even approaching the buggy or even approaching the buggy from the opposite direction.”
Drivers should also be absolutely sure that they know what a buggy is doing before attempting to pass, according Lt. Stephanie Norman of the Wooster Post which patrols both Wayne and Holmes counties. “Really, unless you know what the Amish buggy is doing, be careful on your passing,” she said. “What we find a lot is maybe they’re not looking for the hand signals, and they just assume the buggy’s slowing up to allow them to pass, but in reality the buggy’s attempting to make a turn.”
Lt. Norman noted that Holmes County sees quite a few buggy accidents on State Route 39 and County Road 77. In general, however, she said buggy accidents tend to occur in hilly areas where motorists don’t always have a clear view of the road ahead. “Because of the design of our county as well as Tuscarawas County, we have a lot of hills and valleys, so folks popping up over the hill crest,” she shared. “We see a lot of buggy crashes that way.”
As a general rule, if motorists cannot see what lies ahead, they should slow down and be prepared to make a full stop, according to Lt. Norman. “If you don’t know for sure what’s on the opposite side, you should be prepared to stop in case of an emergency, because it could be somebody’s broken down, whether it’s in a car or whether it’s a buggy or a bicyclist or somebody walking across the road,” she said. “You should always assume that there’s going to be something on the opposite side of that hill.”
For the drivers of motor vehicles, Lt. Norman noted that one of the most important things is simply to be patient, and to allow some extra time to reach their destination. “Don’t be in a rush,” she said. “This is not a community where we need to be rushing and making split-second decisions that could affect the rest of somebody’s life.”
We’ve got a lot of people who are visiting both counties from all over the United States, so traffic slows down. Everybody wants to take in the sights, so we really if we live here locally we need to understand that and be a little more patient and maybe we need to leave a few minutes earlier every day to allow for that stopped traffic or slowed traffic. There’s that rule if it takes you 10 minutes to get to work, you shouldn’t give yourself 10 minutes or less to get there. You should probably give yourself 15 or 20 minutes to get to work.