Should St. Lawrence County require safety signs on Amish buggies?

May 6, 2015

Monday night the St. Lawrence County Legislature voted to table a resolution that would ask the state to require Amish buggies to display orange, reflective triangles.

People on both sides of the buggy debate spoke at the meeting.

Mark Matthews, a member of the Kendrew Grange in DeKalb, the group that brought the buggy issue to legislator Larry Denesha, said his group is focused on safety.

"We’ve looked at it from the standpoint that it makes the roads safer for us," he said. "And it makes it safer for the Amish as well."

He said if the Amish do not comply, he does not want them to go to jail like they did during the last buggy debate 30 years ago.

"We just impound the buggies," he said. "If someone decides not to put a sign on, I guess you can walk, take a horse, or ride the bus."

Larry Denesha said some of his constituents told him they were worried about buggies on the road at night.

He said he noticed it driving in DeKalb.

"Oftentimes at night the buggies, wagons, are very difficult to see." he said. "So it’s a concern for them and a concern for motorists."

Yet, not everyone is for the orange triangle safety signs.

Mary Ann Fisher, who works with the Amish, said the orange triangle is not the right idea. She said the Amish are willing to work towards a compromise that is compatible with their beliefs.

"We found out with Morristown that there was a middle ground," Fisher said. "That it does not involve showing hatred toward one group of people, that it does not involve ousting a group of people simply because of what they believe in or don’t believe in, just because it’s different than ourselves."

Karen Johnson-Weiner, who teaches anthropology at SUNY Potsdam and studies the Amish said the Amish will not use the orange reflectors.

"It’s bright. I’ve heard some say the three-sided reflects the trinity," she said.  "I’ve heard some say it’s putting belief in a man-made symbol that’s too gaudy for them, they don’t use those bright colors, and at the base those things that are against the Ordnung — the rules each Amish church group sets for themselves — are against their understanding of how they should be as Christians in the world."

Some buggies in St. Lawrence County already have the orange triangle safety signs because different sects have different rules and traditions.

Legislators will schedule a meeting with Amish elders later this month and reconsider the resolution at their next full board meeting in June.