Near FAIRBANK, Iowa - Three crashes between motorized vehicles and Amish horse and buggies in Buchanan County over the past six weeks have led to plenty of talk about safety and how to prevent more crashes.
Hundreds of Amish residents live west of Hazleton in Buchanan County.
“We’ve got a large (Amish) population and, with the sun going down earlier now, it’s getting more difficult to see those at night,” said Deputy Cory Hartmann of the Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office. Travel Iowa estimates about 800 Amish residents live throughout Buchanan County.
Hartmann and other law enforcement officers, along with first responders, were at a scene on Friday night, west of Hazleton, when investigators say a car hit a buggy at about 6:10 p.m. with seven people inside, including numerous children. All escaped serious injury. Hartmann estimated the car hit the buggy at about “45 to 50 miles per hour”. Charges have not been filed against the 23-year-old driver.
“When we got on scene, the buggy was actually demolished,” said Hartmann. “We later found (the people in the buggy) with Fairbank Fire and Ambulance service with only cuts and bruises.” Along with the seven occupants of the buggy, the horse was also not seriously injured.
On Thursday, while following up on the story, KCRG-TV 9 spoke with numerous Amish people in Buchanan County, including one of the adults inside the buggy during the November 27 crash, who said she did not break any bones.
Just nine days before, on November 18, investigators cited a buggy driver for not using a “required lighting device” when a car hit the buggy on Highway 281. The buggy driver, in this crash, was also not hurt. As with the most recent crash, this incident took place after sunset, at about 6:45 p.m.
“By Iowa law, the Amish buggies are required to have lights,” said Hartmann. “They travel on the same side of the road as traffic does so, most of the time, you’re going to be approaching them from behind. They do have the orange placards on the back but, sometimes, these lights that the Amish buggies have are controlled by automotive batteries. Sometimes to save the power, the buggy operators will shut these lights off when there’s no cars around."
Hartmann also reported an October 11 crash in Buchanan County between a car and a buggy, also with no injuries. Yet October also saw a deadly crash in southern Iowa, when the Iowa State Patrol says a passing truck hit and killed the 77-year-old occupant of a buggy near Bloomfield. Investigators say the horse turned left into the passing lane, causing the truck to hit the buggy.
With autumn here and winter approaching, sunlight is at a premium and that can present the most danger for all drivers.
“We typically tell individuals who are traveling along these roadways to keep your high beams on as long as possible and it lets you see a lot further distance down the road and you’re going to see those placards,” said Hartmann.
While the Amish, naturally, declined to appear on camera for any interviews, they did talk about staying safe on the roads and highways. Common themes emerged from our conversations on Thursday, with the buggy operators and riders asking motorized drivers to stay at a consistent speed when passing and to refrain from slowing down too swiftly to look at a horse and buggy.
One Amish man, who works at a furniture business off of Amish Boulevard said “we have to do our part, too” and that included making sure that the lights on the back of a buggy are operating and visible.
(Note: Out of courtesy to the Amish men and women who spoke with KCRG-TV 9 for this story, we are not publishing their names to preserve their privacy.)