In the summer months thousands of tourists descend on Amish communities such as Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Holmes County, Ohio, Shipshewana, Indiana and Arthur, Illinois, and elsewhere. For many visitors, this may be the first time driving around horse-drawn vehicles. There is something quietly magical about seeing a horse and buggy driving down a country road and hearing the horses hooves clip-clop in the distance. It allows us to imagine life in earlier times, when life moved a whole lot slower.

Unlike automobiles, horses are not machines and can be unpredictable, spooked by noisy exhaust pipes on cars or motorcycles, loud noises from fields or parking lots, and other things we among the “English” might not consider.

We sat down with Viola, author of our ongoing column “Ask Viola”, to get her suggestions for how to drive when visiting Amish country. Here are a few suggestions to make your visit safe for everyone:

  • Try not to rev your engine when pulling alongside a buggy horse. The loud noise could spook the horses, causing the buggy to suddenly move into your lane, or into the shoulder causing damage and injury to the horse, buggy and people inside.
  • When approaching a buggy that is stopped at an intersection, be sure to leave plenty of room between your car and the buggy. Horses can get nervous at intersections and sometimes back up, which could result in damage to the front end of your car.
  • If there is sufficient room in your lane, try not to veer into the center road buttons or rumble strips, which can make a startling noise.
  • When possible, do not pass too close to a buggy, because if something spooks the horse from the shoulder of the road, the buggy could lurch into your vehicle or your path.
  • Slow down when driving over a blind hill, especially if there isn’t a buggy lane; there could be a buggy on the other side of the hill, making it difficult to avoid a collision at high speed.
  • Buggy horses are faster than you may think; some can reach speeds nearing 18-20 MPH. When passing a horse and buggy, remember that they may be slower, but they are still moving at a good clip, so be sure to give them room if you’re facing oncoming traffic.
  • Be sure to leave ample room for passing. Many car/buggy accidents are caused when a driver tries to pass too closely and too fast. If a car’s bumper catches a buggy wheel it doesn’t take much to flip the buggy, causing serious damage to the buggy and injury to its occupants, not to mention the horse.

The best advice is to use caution and common sense when driving in Amish country. It will make your visit all the more enjoyable for you and your new Amish friends.