In Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, shoppers are nearly as likely to see buggies parked outside the grocery store or the doctor’s office as they are to see vehicles. The small town of just under 12,000 people has a large number of local businesses and draws customers from nearby Ethridge and Summertown, Tennessee, both of which have a sizable buggy-driving Amish population. Among Anabaptists, Amish communities are often traditional and live completely without electricity and modern conveniences, including cars.
Perhaps surprisingly, Amish communities are among the fastest-growing population groups in the United States, and their use of horse and buggies has created an infrastructure problem in some rural areas. In Lawrenceburg, for example, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) is currently constructing a buggy lane exclusively for Amish use following a number of buggy-related accidents and ongoing safety issues.
Tennessee isn’t the only state doing this, either. In 2020, the Geauga County Maple Leaf reported that the Ohio Department of Transportation launched an $11.8 million safety initiative for 2021 and 2022 that included funding for buggy lanes. In 2022, the Ashland Source reported that State Route 545 in Ashland County, Ohio, would also receive a $5 million buggy lane.
More Buggies on Rural Roads
A growing Amish population likely means more buggies on rural roads across the country. In 2020, the Mennonite news site Anabaptist World reported that the horse-and-buggy-driving Amish population had doubled in 20 years, increasing by about 97% since 2000. According to a 2022 Amish population profile published by the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, the estimated population of the Amish community in North America in June 2022 was 373,620, an increase of about 12,150 since 2021. More than 62% of that population lives in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, but there are communities outside those states — like the one in Lawrenceburg.
“The Amish have normal life expectancies,” said Dr. Alan Shuldiner, co-director of the University of Maryland Clinical and Translational Research Institute. ”They live more or less healthy lifestyles with high rates of physical activity. There’s not much in terms of excess fatalities during pregnancy or during delivery. It all adds up to, essentially, to an increase in population size.”
Shuldiner says that because large families are culturally valued, Amish birth rates have always been high. It’s not uncommon for couples to have seven or eight children. And while his research does not focus on transportation issues, he says there’s no doubt that buggy-driving Amish communities run the risk of vehicular accidents.
Paving the Way in Lawrence County
According to Lawrence County data analyzed by TDOT, there have been 15 “ridden animal/drawn conveyance” crashes over the past three years, although not all of them occurred where the buggy lane is currently under construction. TDOT also estimates that there are about four to five buggy-related accidents annually in Lawrence County.