The free-to-read newsletter, written by Ashland Source reporter Dillon Carr, is published three times a week and aims at “conquering the fear du jour through bikes and whimsy.”
One of our inquisitive cycopaths asked me recently about the similarities and differences between bikes and buggies on the roads.
It’s an interesting question. And honestly, a bit challenging.
Let’s back up.
The person who asked me this question lives in Ashland. There’s a developing story happening in our part of the state right now that involves a feud between two age-old institutions: religion and jurisprudence.
Ohio enacted a new law that requires all animal-drawn vehicles to have a yellow, flashing light fashioned to it. The increased visibility is meant to keep everyone on the road safe.
There have, in fact, been 723 buggy crashes between 2009 and 2019. Around 350 of those crashes caused injury and 132 of them were incapacitating. There were 17 fatalities during that time and about 65% of all the crashes happened while passing.
That was all according to a 2019 Ohio Department of Transportation Statewide Amish Travel Study.
The new law took effect Aug. 31.
So far, the vast majority of Ohio’s 80,240 Amish members have attached yellow flashing lights to buggies. But there is a small faction that have chosen to disregard the law.
Ashland County is home to some of them, and they belong to the Swartzentruber clan.
Law enforcement agencies waited a month or so to begin enforcing the law. On Oct. 10, the Ashland County Sheriff’s Office cited five men who hadn’t attached yellow flashing lights to their buggies.
An Amish man from the Swartzentruber community faces an Ashland judge in November 2022.
In court, they pleaded no contest and submitted a written letter stating they wouldn’t pay the $50 fines attached to the misdemeanor charges. At the time, the letter only stated vague “religious reasons.”
As more of them got charged, however, the Swartzentruber’s argument became more clear.
“We should have faith in God and trust that he protects us if it is his will. I am afraid if I start using the flashing light on my buggy it would do me harm spiritually, as I could end up having more trust in the flashing light to protect me then God,” wrote Harvey Hostetler in early November.
So far, Ashland County has around 25 Amish members who have not paid their fines. There are others from the Swartzentruber clan in Belmont County who have disregarded the law; however, those charges were dropped so the parties could come to a solution.
So the people who haven’t paid their fines have a deadline. The first deadline is Jan. 4.
It remains to be seen what will happen when those people do not pay their fines. But Ashland Municipal Court Judge John Good has indicated jail time could be on the table. And one member from the Swartzentruber clan said his community is ready to appeal in order to get a higher court to decide.
Alright. So now we’re all caught up.
Now I will attempt to tackle the question, which was “what are the similarities and differences between bikes and buggies on the roads?”
First of all, bicycles and horse-drawn buggies are both considered “vehicles” under Ohio law.
In my mind, this similarity is chief among them because it is under this distinction where some important similarities fall. Since bikes and buggies are considered vehicles, the driver must follow a set of basic rules while on the road, in Ohio at least.
These basic rules are:
• Ride with traffic
• Stop at stop signs, red lights and other traffic control devices
• Attach battery-powered lights
Hence, cyclists and Amish buggy drivers are subject to the same traffic laws. The civil charges attached to violating these rules are minor misdemeanors and fines.
Cyclists and Amish buggy drivers don’t have very many run-ins with the law — unless something is seriously wrong, ie. a crash.
It’s not often we see cyclists getting cited for not riding with traffic, not stopping at stop lights and signs and not attaching battery-powered lights. I don’t think there is an organization or entity that even tracks when citations are issued to cyclists. (I tried finding that data and fell short. If any of you know of something, let me know.)
It’s probably because law enforcement is too busy enforcing the law on drivers of motor vehicles. The Ohio State Highway Patrol has made 375,822 enforcement stops this year, not including crash investigations and non-enforcement activity. Over 12 months, that’s about 31,318 stops every month, 7,829 stops every week or just over 1,000 stops every day, and 43 stops every hour.
If I were a cop, I’d be focused on the bigger fish of traffic.
It’s also not often we see Amish buggies getting pulled over for breaking those basic rules. Most of the time, Amish buggies and cop lights means there was a crash.
And that’s what makes this situation in Ashland County so interesting. Law enforcement is enforcing this law, making the sight of a cop pulling over a buggy a reality most of us who’ve grown up around here never thought possible — even sacrilegious.
There are some obvious differences between the vehicles.
Size is the most glaring. A bike weighs in at about 30-50 pounds, depending on the material of the frame and what is attached to it. Riders are anywhere from 100 to 250 pounds. Give or take.
Buggies are pulled by horses that weigh anywhere from 1,000-1,200 pounds. And those horses can pull up to three times their weight, potentially putting the weight of it all at around 2,500-3,000 pounds.
But the weight differences don’t have much importance. I think the important difference between the two is the fact there are many, many, many more bikes on the roads than buggies on the roads.
This is important because it means there are a ton more crashes between bikes and cars than there are crashes between cars and buggies. And so it might look like riding a bike is more dangerous than riding in a buggy.
I’m not here to say one or the other is more dangerous, but the consequences of a buggy-car crash might be more catastrophic.
There are typically more people — and more property — involved in buggy-car crashes.
Here’s another difference: the rules that govern passing a bicycle and a buggy.
So traffic law in Ohio allows motorists to cross a double yellow line to pass a slower vehicle, but only if …
1.) the slower vehicle is traveling at less than the posted speed limit.
2.) the faster vehicle is able to pass the slower vehicle without exceeding the posted speed limit.
3.) there is enough sight distance ahead to permit the passing maneuver to be safely accomplished.
But the law gets a little more nuanced for cyclists. A vehicle that chooses to pass a cyclist must give at least three feet of clearance. (Even if the cyclist is “taking up the entire lane.”)
There’s actually a really good read on this, by Steve Magas, a bike lawyer from Ohio. He covers the whole “AFRAP” law. Commonly referred to as “As Far Right As Possible” in bike parlance.
And I wrote about this not too long ago, giving rude motorists the nickname “gootfər.”
Anyway, motorists don’t have this rule when passing an Amish buggy. The law only says the vehicle must pass at “a safe distance.”
I like this question. It was fun pondering and researching. It made me think, and it was challenging because it made me reconsider the rules I follow — and don’t follow — while riding my bike on the road.
I’d say the biggest rule I break while riding my bike is stopping at stop signs. And sometimes, if I’m the only one at a traffic light, I’ll run the red.
Actually, it’s way more accurate for me to say I hardly ever stop at a stop sign. It breaks my momentum, and usually the route I’ve chosen is known well enough to know if it’s a busy intersection or not.
I still look both ways, but stopping just … ugh. I don’t know. It’s aggravating.
I also sometimes forget to charge my flashing light when I’m riding in the evening.
But it’s not like I can point to my religion with any conviction as an argument for not stopping. And the light thing, I honestly just forget.
Amish people, it can be argued, have a legitimate religious concern for not obeying that particular rule. Whether you or I agree with that logic is not really up for debate.
I might be totally wrong, but I think our fellow cycopath that posed the question was trying to make a point. And that is, laws and rules of the road are there for a reason. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a cyclist, an Amish buggy driver or a cowboy or an electric scooter rider — follow them.
However, I have a counter to this point. I should be clear, first: I agree with this. The rules of the road are there for everyone’s safety.
But the rules should be enforced and applied evenly. If cops are going to start writing tickets to Amish people for not attaching a flashing light to their buggies, they should also start cracking down on us cyclists for running stop signs and disregarding flashing-light rules.
I’m not saying I would enjoy getting a ticket for running a stop sign while riding my bike. I would actually hate it. I would probably fight it, actually.
The good thing, though, is this: it would raise awareness.
Maybe if there were more cyclists getting tickets for these violations, there would be more scrutiny over the existing laws. Maybe there would be more cyclists on the road who actually know the rules of the road. And maybe there would be more drivers on the roads who knew how to interact with cyclists who are using the same roads.
There are a ton of drivers out there who have no idea how to safely pass a person who is riding their bike.
There are cyclists who have no idea how to signal to drivers where they’ll be turning, or that signaling is even necessary.
If bikers got more tickets, there would be helluva lot more awareness. Cuz us cyclists be crazy.
I don’t know though. I’ve been told I’m an idealist.
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