A horse-drawn buggy rests on its side following a crash in April on River Road in Norridgewock. Police say the horse and driver of the carriage were injured when a driver attempted to pass them. As carriages become more common in parts of Maine, driver’s education instructors say they are putting more emphasis on how motorists should act around buggies. Somerset County Sheriff’s Office photo

Always fasten your seat belt. Keep both hands on the steering wheel. And when you see a horse-drawn buggy, remember it has as much a right to be on the road as you do.

For young Mainers learning to drive in areas of the state where horse-drawn buggies are common, educators have been putting more emphasis on the right way for motorists to act.

The goal is to give students the tools they need to stay safe when their 200-horsepower vehicle comes up on a carriage pulled by a single horse — an interaction that happens regularly in Maine communities where Amish people have settled.

“(For) most of our students, that’s an everyday occurrence, sharing the road with Amish people,” said Chuck Penney of Coastal Driving Academy, who teaches a class at Mount View High School in Thorndike, not far from an Amish settlement in Unity.

Instructors say students are taught to slow down when approaching a horse-drawn buggy, and to give the animal and driver plenty of space, recognizing that carriages have vulnerable wheels that stick out. Students are told to remember that horses can be unpredictable and spook easily.

“They are vehicles in the roadway and they have the same right to the roadway as the motorist does,” Shenna Bellows, Maine’s secretary of state, said.


Those are universal lessons given to nearly every driver’s education student through the curriculum developed by the American Automobile Association, or AAA, the not-for-profit federation of motor clubs throughout North America.

The lessons come as Amish communities continue to establish in the region, putting more buggies onto the same roads as motor vehicles, and sometimes leading to dangerous wrecks.

Last month in Norridgewock, a 34-year-old Skowhegan woman was charged with driving to endanger and several traffic violations after police say she crashed her car into a horse-drawn buggy while trying to pass it. The horse and the buggy driver suffered injuries.

A sign cautions motorists to watch for horse-drawn buggies on Cooper Road in Whitefield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file


In areas such as northwestern Waldo County, where drivers are more likely to see a horse-drawn buggy, those lessons are given greater emphasis.

Pat Moody of AAA Northern New England likens it to the lesson plan on roundabouts, which might get only a quick mention in some areas. But if you are talking to students in Augusta, where there are two roundabouts known for frequent accidents, the instructor is likely to spend more time on it.


It is important, Moody said, that inexperienced drivers are ready to deal with whatever they encounter on the road. From a distance, particularly at night, a horse-drawn buggy can be hard to make out, or to see altogether, making for some white-knuckle interactions.

“It can definitely be frightening for both,” Moody said.

The interactions do not always end well. According to data from the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety, there have been 33 collisions between motor vehicles and horse-drawn buggies in Maine over the past decade. One person died and three suffered serious injuries. At least two horses have been killed in collisions. And in another collision, an infant was thrown from a buggy.

It is not surprising the crashes have been centered in areas of Maine where Amish communities have settled, including three in Whitefield in less than a month in the summer of 2021.

Amish families first came to Maine in 1996, settling in the Aroostook County town of Smyrna, before forming “sister” settlements in Unity and Hodgdon. Another group settled in Fort Fairfield in 2007. Three families from New York and Kentucky came to Whitefield, in Lincoln County, in late 2016.

In June 2023, a motorist attempting to pass a horse-drawn buggy on Route 17 in Somerville clipped the carriage, detaching one of its wheels. Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office photo

There are now at least 11 Amish communities in Maine, with five more founded over the past five years in rural parts of Somerset, Oxford, Androscoggin and Penobscot counties.


Descended from the Anabaptist movement of the Protestant Reformation in 16th century Europe, the Amish shun modern technology. They settle in rural farming communities, where they can work the land and sell the goods they produce — and where they are able to run errands on horse-drawn buggies.

That has put them into vulnerable positions when on tight rural roads and traveling alongside motor vehicles of all sizes.

“In my district, the roads are winding, two lanes and no shoulder,” then-state Rep. Chloe Maxmin of Nobleboro said in 2019.

Officials have responded with a number of safety measures.

Maxmin was speaking in favor of a bill, ultimately passed into law, that requires buggy operators use reflective tape and lights, or lanterns, to announce their appearance to others on the road. The law takes into consideration certain religious objections of some Amish communities.

The state has also put up distinctive black-and-yellow signs on many roads warning motorists that horse-drawn buggies might be present. The lights and signs might not mean much, however, if drivers do not do their part.



“Those warning signs are telling you something,” Penney, the driver’s education instructor, said. “You just need to be patient.”

Drivers need be able to identify a horse-drawn buggy when approaching it, Penney said. Motorists should give the carriage space, and understand the hand signals that buggy drivers use.

When it comes to a horse-drawn buggy, after all, the result of distraction or aggressive driving could be tragic.

“They could be full of hay,” Penney said, “or they could be full of a family of children.”

As the charges against the motorist in the Norridgewock collision show, Penney’s instructions are good practice and consistent with Maine law, which makes it illegal to knowingly frighten or startle an animal on a public road.


“It’s not a suggestion,” Bellows said. “It’s the law.”

As startling as it can be to come upon a horse, it is not much different than other driving situations that require motorists to share the road, according to driving instructors and officials. For safety, everyone has a role to play.

Those driving horse-drawn carriages must obey the laws on visibility. Like pedestrians and bicyclists, those driving buggies are expected to keep an eye out for traffic, understanding that drivers might be surprised to see them, if they see them at all.

And all drivers must be aware of who is around them, including pedestrians, those riding bicycles or motorcycles or people operating carriages. There are too many distractions, with too many drivers impatient to get where they are going.

Ultimately, officials said, everyone needs to slow down and be alert.

“We need to understand that all these vehicles perform differently,” Moody said. “We all hold that responsibility to share the road.”

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