Horse and buggy crashes are widespread problem

by Dave Werner
Franklin County Traffic Safety Board

In mid-June, a vehicle traveling at approximately 50 mph rear-ended a horse and
buggy on state Route 364 in Yates County. The buggy was traveling at about 7 to 10 mph. The collision resulted in the death of a 67-year-old woman in the buggy. Her husband, the driver of the horse and buggy, was injured but survived.

In another incident on July 21, two people in a horse and buggy were rear-ended
by a vehicle on State Route 14A, near North Main Street in Penn Yan, New York. The buggy’s passengers were ejected in the crash, and later airlifted to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. Both victims are improving but face months of recovery. The vehicle’s driver, who was charged with failing to exercise due caution in approaching a horse and following too closely, was not injured.

Although these two buggy crashes were in Yates County in the Finger Lakes
region south of Rochester, it could just as well have been in Franklin County. Both
counties have many Amish and Mennonite residents. Yates County Sheriff’s Department, unlike Franklin County, has a road patrol and is the usual responder to traffic crashes.

The Sheriff of Yates County, Ron Spike, receives my weekly articles on traffic law and traffic safety, and we often exchange ideas via email. Many of the traffic problems in Yates County are like ours in Franklin County.

Vehicle versus horse and buggy collisions are typically caused by distracted
driving, poor illumination on buggies, and vehicles traveling at too-high speeds,
according to Sheriff Spike. Buggies are typically operated by the Mennonites and Amish, many of whom call New York’s rural counties home.

“They are frustrated as well with the collisions,” Spike said of the nearly 3,000
Mennonites in Yates County. “They are very concerned about getting clobbered and the fatalities that have taken place. It’s concerning.”

Solutions that could help limit these collisions, Spike said, include more illumination on the horse and buggies, better statistics to analyze the incidents and less distracted drivers.

A frequent cause of these collisions is a fast-traveling vehicle's driver who doesn’t notice a much slower horse and buggy until it’s too late, according to Spike.

“It takes only about five seconds for a motor vehicle going 50 miles per hour to
travel 400 feet and you're on them. So that’s an issue,” Spike said. “Any distraction by the motor vehicle operator in taking your eyes off the roadway, such a collision can happen very quickly. It’s just sad to see these things.”

Steuben County Sheriff Jim Allard agreed. “The rate of closure is the issue,”
Allard said. “Someone is in a vehicle going 55 to 60 miles per hour and a horse and buggy is going 7 to 10 miles per hour, up a hill or around a corner, drivers underestimate the rate of closure and that is typically what causes the collisions.”

Yates County is experimenting with some possible solutions, including either
white or amber strobe lights on the rear of the buggies. Next week’s Did You Know
article will discuss what they are doing to reduce the vehicle-buggy crashes.