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Collisions between cars, buggies renew safety fear

Saturday, September 28, 2013 - 12:01 am

LANCASTER, Pa. – An Amish buggy moves slowly down a rural road. A string of cars and trucks trails behind it, creeping forward at a sluggish pace.

It's as common a sight in Lancaster County as cornfields and whoopie pies.

But where cars and buggies share the road, there are going to be accidents.

Jason McClune is trying to change that.

The Southern End resident has had his share of fender-benders with buggies. So has his family. Now, though, he's speaking out about the problem after a tragic incident earlier this month hit too close to home.

On Route 30 on the way home from the beach late one evening, the minivan carrying his sister and her family struck a horse head on. Amanda Mattern, McClune's sister, was critically injured when the horse plowed through the passenger-side windshield, coming to rest partially inside the vehicle.

Police said the horse had broken away from a nearby Amish gathering as the owners were trying to hitch it to a buggy.

Mattern, 37, of Mountville, has been in a coma since the Sept. 1 accident and has had extensive surgery to reconstruct her face and close wounds. The rest of her family escaped serious injury, but their road to recovery will be long.

SAFETY FIRST

Safety on the road is an issue McClune deals with regularly. As director of transportation for Solanco School District, he coordinates and oversees dozens of bus routes each day.

He has researched accidents involving horses and buggies, because they are common on area roads. He's come up with a list of suggestions he believes should be made law:

•Require horses to be outfitted with reflectors in case they break from the buggy.

• Set age requirements for those who operate buggies.

•Require all horse-drawn buggies to display reflectors and keep lights on at all times.

•Test buggy operators on the same rules all drivers need to know.

Sam Stoltzfus, a member of the Amish community in Gordonville, agrees with McClune that precautions are worth it.

Stoltzfus, who has been driving buggies on area roads since he was 12, even added a suggestion of his own.

"In Indiana you have to get a nonmotor vehicle plate for your buggy. I don't think that would be a bad idea, because sometimes I shudder when I see some of these little carts out on the roads," he said.

Stoltzfus pointed out that the Amish have tried to improve safety by helping to publish a horse-and-buggy driver's manual in cooperation with the Lancaster County Planning Commission and PennDOT.

It stresses the importance of buggy lighting, courtesy and following the rules of the road. It includes instructions for handling and hitching a horse and emphasizes having a good harness and using reflectors and child safety seats.