- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2001

HILLSDALE, Mich. — Simon Girod, 18, is huddled in a fetal position in the hospital bed. A green hospital gown is tied over one shoulder, an IV trails from his arm.
His girlfriend, Margaret Graber, leans over his bed railing, her black bonnet nearly hiding her flushed pink cheeks. She speaks softly in German, gently touching Mr. Girods hand as he grasps the railing.
Mr. Girod and his older brother Samuel, 22, were riding in their buggy to a construction job near Camden, Mich., last June when a car crashed into them from behind.
It was the third buggy accident in their area in six months.
"We ran out of the house, and the first thing we saw was the car against the tree," Jacob Girod says from his sons hospital room. "Then I saw the boys on the road. I didnt know if they were going to get up or not."
Such accidents have become all too common in Amish communities across the country. Speeding cars, trucks and semi-trailers travel on the same roads as buggies going 5 to 10 mph.
Samuel Girod escaped with scrapes and bruises, but others have not been so fortunate.
In the fall of 1999, one of the Camden Amish was killed in a buggy crash. Maggie Eicher, 34, died in front of her sisters house when she was thrown from a buggy hit by an elderly driver. The man — who often drove for the Amish — later died.
"Were getting through it," says the victims younger brother, Victor Eicher Jr.
Other accidents — although none fatal — and near-misses have occurred since then.
After that accident, Amish leaders met with Hillsdale County road commissioners, asking them to post road signs warning motorists of horse-drawn buggies. The commissioners refused, saying the Amish needed to post fluorescent orange signs on the backs of their buggies.
Although they do display the required white tape and battery-operated lights, the Camden Amish have refused to use the orange signs, saying the brightly colored symbol violates their religious beliefs.
Some Amish in more liberal communities use the slow-moving-vehicle sign.
The Michigan State Supreme Court has ruled that the Amish are exempt from the orange signs because the state failed to prove the sign was any safer than the reflective tape now used.
"The orange triangle was objectionable to them because its bringing the outside world into their religion," says the Rev. William Lindholm, chairman of the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom, which represented the Amish in that court case. "Their buggies are a religious vehicle. It would be similar to putting a big orange banner across a church when youre getting married. Its a symbol of an invasion of their way of life."
Buggy safety is even more precarious in heavily populated Amish areas such as in eastern Ohio and in Pennsylvania, where the roads are winding and hilly.
Roughly 580 buggy crashes have occurred in Ohio since 1991, Department of Public Transportation records show. In 1999, Wayne and Holmes counties alone had 23 personal-injury buggy accidents.
Michigan doesnt record buggy crashes, instead combining them with pedestrian accidents.
In Ohio, home to approximately 48,000 Amish, law enforcement agencies and government agencies are taking action. Ohios transportation and public safety departments have formed a safety committee of Amish leaders to study high-risk areas across the state.
More than 1,200 Amish families returned safety surveys, although the Amish historically have abstained from any government involvement in their lives. At a meeting last year, about 600 Amish men, women and children walked, rode and biked up the hill to the Mount Hope Auction Hall to hear the states recommendations.
"We all know its illegal for the cars to pass you at intersections, but how many of you have seen them do it?" Lt. Joel Smith of the Ohio State Highway Patrol asked.
Nearly every adult male raised his hand.
"Were going to make these people slow down and respect you," Lt. Smith said.
The states department of public safety has allocated $255,000 toward an education campaign that includes billboards, a crackdown on speeders, a rules-of-the-road handbook for young buggy operators and buggy-safety training in drivers education courses.
* Distributed by Scripps Howard

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