It is an uncertain position to be in, controlling the reins of a horse and buggy driving along the shoulder of the road, but it is reality for the many Amish living here in eastern PEI.
“You can’t really see oncoming traffic and when people speed by it is a really hard place to be,” Kings District RCMP Constable Sonet Sato said after recently accepting an invitation to literally take the reins.
“Two of the wheels went off the road onto the gravel and it was really hard for the horse to pull it so I can’t imagine what it would be like when you have snow.”
The horses are a bit unpredictable when it comes to how they will react to vehicles speeding by within close range, Cst Sato was told by a spokesperson from the community.
They can do one of three things - remain calm and continue on as normal (which of course is the desired effect), take off at their own speed and direction, or veer into the ditch.
Just as important as taking notice of the horse drawn buggies are the children on the shoulders of the road making their way to and from school.
“They live here and this is how they commute,” Cst Sato said.
The children are often clad in reflective vests and always wave to motorists signalling their own awareness.
RCMP and provincial Highway Safety are working together on a pamphlet to be distributed to the public in the near future.
It is just one of the steps being taken to ensure the safety of all.
“There is no easy fix,” Cst Sato said. “Road users can be educated, but we have a high turnover of visitors to the Island, which makes this a project most likely without an end date.
More police patrols along the roads where the Amish families frequently travel are another aspect of an ongoing awareness campaign which has ramped up after three reported collisions so far this year.
“When I pull people over I make them aware there are people on the roads,” Cst Sato said, noting the majority of speeders on the highways in question are from out-of-province and often don’t notice the yellow horse and buggy signs posted on the roadsides until they are pointed out to them.
There have been no reported serious collisions since July 2, 2019. That collision, which occurred in Peakes, resulted in minor injuries and the horse had to be put down. Also, Cst Sato said there are often minor insistences that go unreported.
The areas where the Amish families reside and go to school include New Perth, Summerville, Peakes, Baldwins Road and Brothers Road. There are also many families who live along the Seven Mile Road from Glenfanning to Dingwell’s Mills, branching off onto the Strathcona Road, Annandale and Albion Roads.
There is also horse and buggy traffic in other towns and villages where members of the Amish community conduct business.
Cst Sato said once the pamphlets are complete check stops will be conducted to get the word out.