ADAMS/ALLEN COUNTIES, Ind. (WANE)--In Indiana, drivers must be 16 before they're eligible for a driver's license. It's the law for most moving vehicles. But a group of people has virtually unrestricted rein on the roadways.
Any driver in rural northeast Indiana has most likely encountered an Amish buggy on the roadway. There are absolutely no age restrictions on the drivers of horse-drawn buggies.
For more than a week NewsChannel 15 watched Amish buggies from Berne to Grabill on county roads and busy highways. You may be surprised who's holding the reins.
The Amish are a people deeply rooted in religion and tradition, with a lifestyle many people in northeast Indiana are used to. But between the Amish and non-Amish residents, there are two vastly different cultures with two vastly different modes of transportation.
With very little effort, NewsChannel 15 saw children 12, 11, as young as 10-years-old driving on country roads. The kids were sharing the road with cars and trucks.
Every weekday afternoon, an East Allen County school bus shows up at Westridge School. It's an Amish school located on the corner of Notestein and Ricker Roads near Harlan.
Teachers and students said it's common to see fourth and fifth graders driving buggies on the roads. Many of them drive pony buggies meant for the younger kids. Most of them say they stay away State Road 37.
The young children are driving multi-passenger vehicles while cars fly past at about 50 miles an hour. Believe it or not, it's all legal.
"There is no license requirement. No permit requirement. No age requirement for them to use those horse-drawn vehicles on the roadway," said Ron Galaviz with the Indiana State Police. "There is no law governing that at this point."
Buggies are legally required to have an orange triangle on the back and lights at night. Anyone can drive them on any road, except the interstate.
"So long as they're abiding by the rules of the road, they're not violating any state law whatsoever," Galaviz said. "It is dangerous. It is. But again we come from two different cultures."
That danger is evident outside of Berne. 14 is the oldest student at an Amish school off State Road 218. But kids don't take the bus. Many of them ride home using the 55 mile an hour highway with no passing zones and semi trucks flying past.
Many people in Adams and northeast Allen County don't see a problem with it. Those who do, like some customers in the Marathon station east of Berne, don't want to talk on camera for fear of talking bad about a people who provide a large economic impact in the area.
"Never really thought too much about young children driving the buggies because it's sort of a way of life here in the Berne area," said John Kirchhofer, president of Yager Furniture. "I don't think that anything needs to be changed because I think the majority of Amish people that drive are responsible people and as I said before, most of them are teenagers."
A third of Adams County is now Amish. Thousands more live across northeast Indiana. Though almost everyone agrees the buggies are dangerous, non-Amish people in Amish country think there's a simple solution to keep the roadways safe. They're pointing fingers at their own driving habits, not the Amish.
"This area is Amish territory," Menche said. "It always has been and it probably always will be."
Tune in Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. to see NewsChannel 15's Adam Widener bring the discovery to lawmakers. Hear what they have to say and if there are any plans to create more restrictions on the dangerous issue.
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