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Do the Amish Need Drivers' Licenses to Drive Buggies?

The Amish are famous for their refusal to engage with many of life's modern luxuries. That includes abstaining from driving cars, trucks, vans, and other automobiles.

While their beliefs still allow them to ride in motor vehicles, they can only "drive" vehicles like horse-drawn carriages -- better known as buggies.

Because the Amish drive their buggies on public roads, people commonly ask: Do the Amish need drivers' licenses to drive their buggies?

In short, the answer is no, an Amish person does not require a driver's license to drive a buggy on public roads.

Here's why.

Why Don't the Amish Need Drivers' Licenses?

The Amish don't need drivers' licenses to operate buggies because licensure laws do not apply to buggies in general.

It's not that the Amish are intentionally exempt. The loophole is that their preferred mode of travel is in a non-motor carriage.

In short, this means that the Amish only need to designate their buggy as a slow-moving vehicle -- the orange triangle you see on their bumpers -- and add some form of lighting to their sides to be "street legal."

Other considerations are important as well. Buggies have to conform to a certain width in order to fit in the lanes of modern roads, and they're not eligible to go on single-lane highways.

Even so, they're permitted on common "yellow line" roads, where they often try to keep to the shoulder as they travel so that cars and bicycles can safely pass them.

However, while this sounds reasonable on paper, Amish individuals may also choose to use non-buggy vehicles to get around as well.

Namely, these include objects like wagons, which may be pulled by a smaller animal like a pony and lack the typically-required orange triangle and lights.

The Amish often don't take these vehicles out on public roads at night, so it's mostly safe. But on busy days and in tourist-heavy areas -- like the back roads of Lancaster County, PA -- any influx of motor vehicles can cause safety concerns for Amish traveling this way.

In fact, this is just one of the issues that have emerged from a lack of regulation over Amish travel.

Are There Issues with the Amish Not Requiring Drivers' Licenses?

Because the Amish don't require drivers' licenses, critics are quick to point out that this could lead to potential road hazards in commonly-traveled areas.

Typically, critics will make points like:

1. There's No Age Requirement to Drive a Buggy

While it's not common to see a child drive a buggy on a busy road, it can -- and does -- happen.

Guiding a horse with reins requires substantial experience. Even domesticated horses have spirits of their own, and it's easy for them to get spooked by loud noises, unexpected objects entering their eyeline, and more.

While horse blinders and noise training can help minimize these risks, buggies require experienced drivers to keep horses, themselves, and traffic safe.

Generally speaking, children don't have that level of experience -- even if they grow up on a farm with horses, as many Amish do.

This doesn't stop young Amish from driving buggies on public roads, though. They may also drive the aforementioned wagons with smaller ponies that are easier to control.

Either way, the person in control of the buggy is still exceptionally young, and even the best-trained horses can have their rebellious moments under stress.

Couple this with the fact that the Amish are also exposed to seasonal tourists who may not have a knowledge or respect for horses, and the issue becomes more difficult -- and sounds more unsafe -- for drivers sharing the road with the Amish.

2. There's No Formalized Learning Curve to Drive a Buggy

Similar to the issue of age, there's not a formal or regulated learning system that teaches someone how to drive a buggy, as is required with a motor vehicle.

Opponents to this idea will point out that buggies travel far too slowly to require the same level of training and practice as driving a car. In addition, accidents with buggies can also happen because of someone driving a car.

Proponents of this idea argue that it's not the buggy that's the issue, but the fact that almost everyone else is driving a car. And if a car does hit a buggy because it's, say, traveling around a corner with poor visibility, a car should have a safe distance to slow down without concern of hitting an object in front of it.

Because of that, a split-second rebellion from a horse -- or a lack of visibility -- can cause an animal or a buggy to travel into opposing traffic or collide with a vehicle that is otherwise safely passing it.

Those who grow up alongside horses and know them well will likely know how to solve an issue that comes up before it causes damage.

But even traveling at a safe 35 MPH is a disastrous speed if a car collides with a horse and the people it's guiding.

This is why there's been a fairly consistent -- though quiet and low-priority -- discussion happening in places like Lancaster County. The topic is: Should the Amish require drivers' licenses to drive buggies?

Should the Amish Be Required to Get Drivers' Licenses to Drive Buggies?

Again, this is a two-sided discussion that always takes a back seat to more pressing issues in places like Lancaster, PA.

Still, it's a discussion on which residents and even tourists will often have an opinion.

Proponents of licensure argue that it's a simple matter of safety. Any person driving on a public road should have a state driver's license that indicates they've passed the necessary requirements to take a vehicle on the road -- whether it's a car or a buggy.

There may not be many crashes between cars and buggies -- but you only need one to cause lifelong harm and potentially death.

Opponents of licensure often take the stance that this isn't a real issue. The Amish are involved in and cause very few road accidents, and forcing them into licensure could, in some ways, be viewed as infringing on their religious beliefs.

The validity of either side of this debate is frequently in question by its opposition, and all levels of government consider it a low-level issue (if it's even an issue at all).

As a result, it's unlikely any action will ever result of this topic, and the Amish will most likely never need licensure to drive a buggy except in some extreme, unpredictable circumstance where a buggy is the cause of a disaster.

What Do the Amish Use for Identification?

This is slightly off-topic, but a lot of people have this follow-up question when learning about the Amish and whether they need drivers' licenses.

If an Amish person never has to get a driver's license, what do they use for government-issued ID?

The short answer is that the Amish often use a combination of:

  1. Social security numbers
  2. State-issued photo IDs

Social security numbers are issued to the Amish at birth, just like with every other American. An Amish person will probably never use it to earn social security in their golden years, but the number itself is required for so many different parts of society today that it's still useful.

State-issued photo IDs are alternatives to drivers' licenses that fulfill the requirements of visual identification without going through the process of earning a license.

So instead of learning to drive a car, an Amish person can go get a similar photo ID from the state for the purposes of opening bank accounts, cashing checks, etc., all of which are essential parts of modern life that even the Amish need to do.

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