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Branch Co. Farm Bureau urges Amish horse and buggy road regulation

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There are growing concerns about deteriorating road conditions and deadly crashes involving Amish buggies and horses in West Michigan.

The Branch County Farm Bureau passed a resolution in the hopes the Michigan Farm Bureau will convince lawmakers that something needs to be done.

Outside the town of Quincy, a stretch of Lester Road in Algansee Township has plenty of wear and tear.

"It's detrimental to your vehicle and it's dangerous too," said a resident.

The damage is so bad, parts of the road converted from pavement back to dirt. Local leaders say horse and buggies used by this local Amish community play a big role in the destruction.

"We spend too much money on our roads to have steel wheels and carbide-tipped wheels tearing them up," said Michigan Sen. Mike Shirkey, R- Clark Lake.

The Branch County Farm Bureau passed onto the state a resolution, which recommends:

...annual licensing of horse drawn vehicles used mainly on public roads and require each buggy to be marked with reflective devices making our roadways safer for all involved.

"In case of accidents, police have expressed concerns about next of kin and trying to find people," said Branch County Farm Bureau President Brian AcMoody.

Since rural roadways are being heavily worn by steel wheeled vehicles and horses with steel shoes cleats, the bureau also recommends:

...all vehicles and animals be required to use rubber shoes and or wheels.

In Michigan, counties do not have authority to license buggies, but Shirkey hopes to introduce legislation, because he says there are few, if any, regulations.

"This is not about punishing the Amish. This about protecting them and the English drivers as well," Shirkey said.

There's been several crashes involving horse and buggy's in West Michigan.

Three Amish kids were killed in October 2017 and their parents critically injured after a truck crashed into their buggy in Montclam County. In September, a horse was killed when a van crashed head-on into a horse drawn buggy in Van Buren County.

"We've had far too many close encounters," Shirkey said.

Shirkey had been in discussion with Amish bishops in Branch and Hillsdale county to find a solution, but talks have staled.

"After spending a summer trying to engage, I'm afraid that they leave us with no options than to start studying different options for legislature that would regulate Amish vehicles on roads" Shirkey said.

He met with local officials and law enforcement who had pushed in past sessions for authorization to charge a $50 request to help pay for road damages, identifying owners, and for safety concerns.

Residents in Branch County say something needs to be done, so everyone is on the same page.

"People who live in this area are well aware of it, but if you take someone's who's not, it's a totally different situation," said one Branch County resident.

Indiana, Pennsylvania and other states allow restrictions and registration of Amish buggies.

Shirkey is looking at laws in Pennsylvania as a template for what can be done in Michigan.

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