Amish Buggies, Traffic Law Clash

source: ACLU, April 8, 2001

NICKTOWN, PA Slow-moving Amish buggies are sometimes difficult for other drivers to see, especially at night, when the all-black, horse-drawn vehicles can fade into the darkness, the Associated Press reported.

According to the AP, there have been no deaths or serious injuries, but the threat has sparked a showdown with the small, conservative Swartzentruber Amish community.

Its members refuse to use the standard warning symbol of a bright orange triangle that state law requires on slow-moving vehicles, saying the colorful reflectors violate their belief in plain personal belongings. Instead, they outline the back edges of their buggies with gray reflective tape.

Although most other Amish groups in Pennsylvania use the orange reflectors, the Swartzentrubers have received the backing of the local American Civil Liberties Union.

And state Senator John D. Wozniak, who represents the area including Nicktown, said last week that he would introduce a bill that would allow the Swartzentrubers to use their reflective tape.

In December, Jonas Swartzentruber spent three days in jail after being cited for not having a triangle on his buggy. Since then, 10 other members of the sect have been cited, and all say they would rather go to jail than pay the $100 fine or perform community service.

``Doing community service would probably require us to ride in a truck or work with electrical tools,'' said Levi Zook, one of those who have been cited. ``We don't want to go to jail, but that is what we will do.''

Pennsylvania law requires all slow-moving vehicles, including Amish buggies and farm equipment, to display the familiar triangle reflectors as a warning to drivers coming from behind.

``Slow-moving vehicles are at risk when they travel on the roads in Pennsylvania,'' said Jack Lewis, a State Police spokesman. ``The reflective emblem law is designed to promote safety. We are enforcing that law.''

Lewis said there have been a few crashes involving Swartzentruber Amish buggies, and State Police began enforcing the reflector law after other residents complained.

The Swartzentrubers are among several conservative Amish orders in Pennsylvania and elsewhere that object to the reflectors both because of the bright colors and the idea that they should wear a symbol for their protection.

``They've cited to me scriptural passages about the perils of putting your faith in a man-made symbol instead of putting your faith in God,'' said Donna Doblick, an attorney with a Pittsburgh law firm that is representing the Swartzentrubers. "You have to remember these people read the Bible very literally and find that aspect the symbol, the triangle very problematic.'' Doblick said four states including Ohio permit reflective tape outlining the back of a buggy as a substitute for the orange triangle.

Doblick's firm and the ACLU are working with Wozniak to draw up similar legislation for Pennsylvania.

"If we can find something that's equally effective, why not let them use it?'' Wozniak said.



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