OSWEGO COUNTY - A recent car-buggy accident in Mexico in which an Amish woman died has heightened the discussion of safety for cars and buggies traveling on area roadways.
Oswego County Fire Coordinator Donald Forbes said at the Nov. 4 Oswego County Legislature Public Safety Committee meeting that more awareness is needed of Amish horse-drawn buggies using area roads and how to keep them safe.
Anna J. Miller, 44, of Pulaski, died in an accident when the horse-drawn buggy she was traveling in was hit by from behind by a 2018 Ford Fusion Oct. 17 on State Route 3 in the town of Mexico. The Fusion was driven by William E. Twombly, 40, of Carthage.
Miller was ejected when the car hit the buggy. She died six days later. Another buggy passenger, Andy A. Miller, 44, also of Pulaski, also was ejected and suffered back injuries.
Twombly was slightly injured. Two horses pulling the buggy were euthanized.
Forbes said the problem is twofold — vehicle drivers not watching for buggies on the road and buggies that often are difficult to see. Amish buggies are all black and can be difficult to see until a driver is almost on top of them, especially after dark or on gloomy days.
The Mexico accident occurred on a dark, overcast day in the daylight at about 3:30 p.m.
Forbes said some counties require better reflective devices be placed on the back of the buggies, such as the bright orange triangles marking slow-moving vehicles that often are seen marking farm equipment. But not all Amish sects will do this, stating using the reflective triangles or reflective tape is against their believes.
“Some Amish have had success in fighting counties on these laws,” said Oswego County Sheriff Donald Hilton.
Legislator Margaret Kastler, R-Lacona, said the Tug Hill Commission once conducted a workshop on what can be done to make buggies and vehicles safe when they share the road. “They have the right to be on the road and we have to watch out for them,” she said.
In 2013, state Sen. Patricia Ritchie, R-Oswegatchie, began what she called the “Share the Road” program, complete with state budget money to install as many as 100 new reflective road hazard signs and to produce a new brochure, prepared with the help of highway safety experts, to remind drivers to “Share the Road” with slow-moving Amish buggies. She also was behind a push to have more reflective tape or orange triangles places on the back of buggies.
Some places even require the Amish to have lights on the back of their buggies.
The St. Lawrence County Legislature also took on this issue again after a fatal accident involving an Amish wagon in November 2017 in Oswegatchie. In 2015, legislators worked with Amish bishops to reach an agreement calling for doubling the amount of reflective tape the Amish use on the back of their buggies as well as taping some other places to improve visibility.
A story in the Watertown Daily Times in 2018 stated the majority of Amish communities in St. Lawrence County do not use the bright-colored triangular signs on the back of their buggies, arguing the color does not fit in with their conservative lifestyle. They have said the reflective tape is sufficient. In other parts of the country, the Amish are required to use the signs.
Robert Lighthall, former Oswego County undersheriff who now heads the county’s STOP-DWI program, said he is on the Oswego County Traffic Safety Board, which is in the early stages of exploring the possibility of an informational meeting regarding slow moving vehicles on the highway, including horse drawn buggies.
Lighthall said Sgt. Bernie Kennett of the New York State Police is his contact regarding highway safety and may be helping with the possible informational meeting.