An ‘orange blob’: Thoughts on the SMV emblem’s impact from an OSU academic… (where the emblem originated)

Horse and Buggy Crash Study II:

Overstretching the Slow-Moving Vehicle Emblem’s Abilities:
Lessons from the Swartzentruber Amish

by Cory Anderson

Doctoral Candidate in Rural Sociology
School of Environment and Natural Resources
The Ohio State University


For decades, the Swartzentruber sect of Amish have, for religious reasons, rejected state-level mandates for horse-drawn buggies to display the S.M.V. (slow-moving vehicle) emblem. Court cases in several states have suggested:

(1) confusion over what the emblem is supposed to accomplish, and
(2) questions about the emblem’s superiority to alternatives.

Synthesizing evidence presented in several court cases involving the S.M.V. emblem and the Swartzentruber Amish, this study clarifies what the S.M.V. emblem can be expected to accomplish and in which domains it reaches its limits. The evidence is organized categorically and presented as a series of cues presented to the motorist. Findings suggest that while S.M.V. emblem serves well as a generic indicator of something demanding attention, it is less effective in symbolic communicating what it is that needs attention and the motorist’s approaching time. Further, the S.M.V. emblem may be counterproductive when a motorist passes a buggy, as the bright splash of color draws attention to the center of the buggy rather than communicating buggy width.

“This study analyzes proceedings from major court cases in order to bring clarity to the question:

what is the S.M.V. emblem supposed to do and is it doing it, and what are the limitations of the emblem? Related to these questions, what about the effectiveness and limitations of reflective tape and the buggy itself?

“…even if instruction is successful and people are taught the meaning [of the SMV emblem], the emblem itself takes on multiple appearances, and therefore, as a symbol is inconsistent in its representation. It has a different appearance depending on if it is fully illuminated versus reflecting headlights at night (a solid triangle versus a hollow triangle). In addition, its features are ambiguous from a distance, and the emblem resembles anorange blob.’ “