Safety, Insurance, God and the Amish

While many among the Amish are indeed purchasers and users of our own Tri-Color Triangle ™, some of them (including their Bishops) still feel that they cannot in good faith employ this advance, or even the legacy Old-School triangle, for perceived religious and social pressure reasons.

“Most of the Amish sects in St. Lawrence County (New York) don’t allow their members to attach the bright-colored triangular sign to the back of their vehicles, arguing that the color does not fit in with their conservative lifestyle.” Other reluctant groups and individuals feel that, in so many words, using any type of triangle would constitute either a lacking of trust in Divine Providence or is a physical, material object form of insurance, to which most of the Amish object.

The Amish have a religious objection to insurance, being conscientiously opposed to accepting benefits of any private or public insurance. This is owing to the fact of them  accepting misfortune as Gottes Wille (God’s will) and that they should show a willingness to submit to the “Will of Jesus”, expressed through group norms/Ordnung, such as not having insurance, or incorporating into other elements of their lives various other practices which we (the English) would classify as exposing themselves to preventable risks. If things then happen to turn out bad, the reason for the misfortune falls under this blanket concept. Not undertaking active prevention of some of these commonly-identifiable risks is what the larger English society would be categorized as taking a gamble… hoping for the best and leaving it at that. Even Amish Bishops are commonly chosen by lot as a reflection of  reliance primarily on God’s will versus active choices being made.

From a discussion on using something as simple as bicycles in Pennsylvania (a discussion that also touches on buggy colors) comes the following insights…

“As in many societies, once a precedent is established, it’s resistant to change,” said Steve Nolt, professor of History and Anabaptist studies at Elizabethtown College in an email with LNP/LancasterOnline. “By that time, bicycles (in his example… though any new innovation could be substituted… and here I’m implying SMV Triangles) were simply not part of the Amish symbolic world, and scooters (in his example again, but here meaning either anything else, or, nothing) filled that role, both practically and symbolically.”

Touching then on why Pennsylvania has a variety of colors being used in differing subdivisions among the horse and buggy set… “Once established, each became a tradition.” This Ordnung, plus the Gottes Wille default thinking mode, is what common SMV triangles and, even more so, the Tri-Color Triangle ™ find themselves up against in potential acceptance for use among some of the Amish… even when weighed against self-preservation… and when failure to use them can lead to dire consequences for those at risk on an unfortunate regular, recurrent basis. “However, when enough members of a community feel strongly that something should be allowed, this can generate significant pressure on the leadership. Church leadership may choose to temporarily allow a given technology before bringing it up for consideration.  Amish may take a “wait and see” approach to see how a technology impacts another district.  Being slow to change an Ordnung reflects a conservative approach that weighs the value of forefather’s decisions more heavily than innovation and passing fads.

Edited excerpts from an article on proposed Ohio legislation to increase buggy visibility and reduce crashes follow. (A similar transcript of a video piece on this issue, plus the video are the last item on this page)

“Ohio’s ‘English’ drivers must share the road with thousands of Amish buggies. It can be dangerous for all vehicles when buggies and carts don’t use enough retro-reflective tape or lights. Representatives Scott Wiggam and Darrell Kick announced a bill Monday (2-10-20) designed to make buggies more visible. The bill would require animal-drawn vehicles to display a new type of reflective tape that provides higher visibility as well as a flashing yellow light on top of the vehicle at all times.

Since 2014, there have been over 872 reported crashes involving an animal with a rider or an animal-drawn vehicle in Ohio, including at least 18 fatal crashes that killed 20 people, according to statistics provided by the State Highway Patrol. Ohio Revised Code currently only requires one white light on the front of buggies, two red lights on the rear (or one red light and two red retro-reflectors on the rear) and a state-compliant slow-moving vehicle triangular emblem, or, 72-inches of retro-reflective tape to the rear (note: this non-usage of a triangle and substituting mere strips of tape are NOT really sufficient, in our studied opinion based on comparative graphics and ‘psychology of visual input’ analysis).

Lt. Stephanie Norman, commander of the Wooster Post of the State Highway Patrol, says ‘We can tell the Amish our recommendations on what we think should be on the buggies, but unless it’s a law, not everyone’s going to comply. While some of the more liberal groups of Amish in the state go above what’s required in complying with the current law, more conservative groups do only the minimum required.’ ‘…It’s time to put safety first in this area,’ Representative Kick said.

The Swartzentruber subgroup of Amish has previously made headlines in Kentucky and Pennsylvania for resisting laws requiring slow-moving vehicle emblems on buggies. ‘We have talked with some of the more conservative groups and I think there’s an understanding that something more needs to be done and that’s sort of where we get the message that they’ll comply with whatever the law says,’ according to Lt. Norman. Both Representatives Wiggam and Kick said they have participated in many conversations with Amish across the state and it’s not just their English constituents who want the law to change. ‘I’ve had more of a warm reception from the Amish community than I expected going into it, Rep. Wiggam reported. Rep. Richert said most of the Amish he speaks with want improvements to the law. ‘It’s just the bishops that are holding it up for whatever reason.’ The Amish and Mennonites are made up of small communities with their own bishops; individuals customarily follow what their respective bishops tell them.”

Here’s a sidebar on what is seen as parallel reasoning of some Maine Amish in dealing with 2020 coronavirus regulations that seems to also be the mindset of some folks in their willingness (or not) to be informed on the benefits of using triangles (especially the extra benefits of using ours) plus also the willingness (or not) to actually use them, which of course not only aids the Amish but is also a needed form of cooperation with the greater public in keeping English motorists from crashing into their buggies.

“I feel less of a need to be informed because I think most people would be happier if they were less informed.” 

“We would cringe if people would see us as not being cooperative.”

(Here is the link to the original Ohio article)

DSCN5950 big and little TCT fb

2 sizes available: Regular on left;  Big T-C T on right (used mostly on large farm equipment)

So, please, Amish Bishops (who may have the rare internet access to see this), consider this as an Open Letter to you on the behalves of your congregations. We know that “…the Amish ministry is untrained and unpaid.  Most church members feel that being chosen for the Amish ministry is a burden and a blessing.  Few Amish men seek the role;  one Amish minister when passed over for the choice of bishop expressed relief at having ‘dodged a bullet.’ ” Instead of letting the safety of your fellow congregants under your care to be left up to chance/(“chosen by lot”) or your conducting a default type of experiment to see if it is indeed only up to Gottes Wille if they stay safe or get hurt… please at least let Old School SMV triangles be used in your districts. And better yet, take the logical next step and allow Tri-Color Triangles and battery lights. Tradition for Tradition’s Sake is so early-20th Century thinking… your people are dealing with 21st Century traffic and deserve to live. And… the English motorists don’t really want to participate in a religious safety experiment, whether you would ‘forgive’ them or not if it doesn’t work out.

More information on buggy safety, buggy crashes and proposed legislation in Ohio, with Holmes County specifically highlighted, come from a news story from Channel 8-TV in Cleveland. Edited excerpts are below.

“MT. HOPE, Ohio (WJW) — Ohio legislators have proposed a bill aimed at making the roads safer for citizens traveling in animal-drawn carriages. The Old World and The New World collide in the Holmes County community of Mt. Hope as the Amish and the English gather for the Mt. Hope auctions. With so many Amish buggies sharing the roads with cars and trucks, accidents are inevitable.

‘My experience in the background of being in the EMS and fire for 30 years, was that when people get in a hurry and people try to push each other, accidents don’t happen, they’re created,’ according to Amish merchant and volunteer firefighter Reuben Troyer.

Troyer says in recent years, buggy crashes have had a profound impact on the Amish community, and improving safety on the roads has become a major topic of discussion. ‘It’s life-changing, you know it’s forever different from the day of, or the day before and then the day forward. So, it’s forever changing for that family and that community and that church,’ he said.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol says in 2019 alone, there were more than 120 accidents involving Amish buggies and that most of those crashes happened during the nighttime hours. Under a new bill introduced by Ohio House Representatives Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) and Darrell Kick (R-Loudonville), all animal-drawn vehicles would be required to have new retro-reflective tape that is more visible at night and a flashing yellow light on the highest point of the back of the vehicle. Rep. Kick told FOX 8 that if the bill becomes law, violators who failed to install the proposed safety measures could face a fine, but he added that there would be a grace period before enforcement would begin.

Reuben Troyer says many Amish groups endorse the proposed new law. ‘When the terrible accidents happen, anything we can do to prevent those is one step closer to the perfection we’re looking for in that regard,’ he said. Troyer says conservative groups may oppose the proposed safety measures, but he says in their pursuit of the simple life, the Amish must still accept certain changes to adapt to the world around them. ‘If we share the roads successfully, we’ll never have a bad outcome, that’s for every driver out there,’ said Troyer. ‘Just like cars and airbags, as we improve, it all gets better.’ ”

Click this sentence for the accompanying VIDEO to the above story and original text.

Finally, these insights that were posted on June 8, 2011 in Amish Controversies

“The SMV triangle has become iconic of the Amish and the vast majority of them willingly display them on their carriages. However, some of the ‘lower’ groups (in particular the Swartzentruber Amish and a few others) refuse to display them. This refusal has gone back decades, and Swartzentruber Amish have ended up in court on numerous occasions over the matter (see The Amish and the State for a discussion of similar cases going back to the first time an Amishman was cited, in Orange County, Indiana in the late 1960s {ironic coincidence, eh?… Orange County–orange triangle} ).  A few days ago, members of a Swartzentruber group in Graves County, Kentucky, lost an appeal over non-display of the SMV triangle.

As to the issue itself, I think when you ask ‘higher’ Amish (i.e., standard Old Order, or New Order), you will find folks critical of the Swartzentrubers and others who refuse the SMV, primarily citing safety (not only their own, but that of English drivers). Low Amish see the triangle as a worldly symbol, and feel that the issue of safety rests in large measure in God’s hands. On the other, I (this author) tend to be swayed by the safety argument.  In lieu of the triangle, some conservative Amish display reflective tape, which I (the author) suppose approximates what the SMV triangle is meant to do.

But with the SMV triangle so recognizable and widely-used, differing from what drivers expect as the norm could cause confusion in the split seconds when a road decision must be made.  And I (the author) am skeptical that reflective tape offers an equally-visible signal as does the bright orange triangle.  A good study of the safety aspects and comparative accident rates would be in order, if one hasn’t been done already (buggy safety studies have been conducted, but I (the author) am not aware of one focusing on this particular issue).

For more history and background on the controversy, you can try the article ‘Do all Amish use the SMV triangle?‘ ” –from

See also our page on the new updated Ohio law on buggies needing to use amber strobe lights on their roofs.