WHITEFIELD — When Mose Yoder and his wife, Anna, brought their 10 children to rural Maine in March from their home in upstate New York, he expected there would be challenges.

He thought it’d take time getting used to the people, the community and the climate. Yoder also knew there would be challenges driving on the narrow, curvy and hilly Whitefield roads.

“I hoped we’d share the road with no problems, but I didn’t expect it,” Yoder said. “Every new community goes through this.”

Amish horse-and-buggy safety has been on the minds of Whitefield officials, local law enforcement and the Maine Department of Transportation since two minor accidents involving horse-drawn carriages over the last two months. For all the talk in local newspapers and town meetings, Yoder doesn’t think it’s a big deal.

“We’ve had a few minor accidents that drew a lot of attention,” he said. “When I pick up a newspaper, there are accidents every day.”

A horse-drawn buggy was rear-ended Oct. 4, and there was also a minor accident on Sept. 28. Nobody was injured in either, but the accidents damaged the vehicles, including thousands of dollars in damage to the horse-drawn carriage. The incidents prompted the Select Board to begin talking about ways to make the town safer for its Amish residents.

After the October accident, the board met with the sheriff’s office and state transportation officials to think of ways to increase vehicle safety in Whitefield. A small group of community members met with Yoder and other Amish later in October to continue the discussion.

“The conversation has been great, and if they want to, we can sit down again,” Yoder said. “The meeting consisted of ideas, and I think they might have been feeling us out.”

Maine Traffic Engineer David Allen has been working with local officials and Amish leaders, and he said it’s a good sign that the Amish are willing to continue talking about ways to make the roads in Whitefield safer for all vehicles.

“We need to come up with things that work,” Allen said. “People in town are becoming protective (of the Amish), because they’re really good neighbors.”

The Amish have reflective tape on the back of their buggies, as mandated by the state Department of Transportation, and they have been asked about adopting a red-and-orange triangle, the widely used symbol for slow-moving vehicles. The Amish also were given reflective armbands for their youngest to wear when walking on the roads, but the Amish have yet to begin using those safety measures.

The Yoders and at least two other Amish families moved into Whitefield and Jefferson in the spring after coming to Maine from New York state and Kentucky. Whitefield officials installed horse-and-buggy signs around town after their arrival.

The Whitefield Amish community is one of six settlements in Maine, and the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, in Pennsylvania, estimates there are about 665 Amish in Maine. It is not clear which settlement is the largest, because there hasn’t been an Amish population count since 2010. Pennsylvania and Ohio have almost 50 percent of the estimated 318,500 Amish in North America. According to the Young Center, the number of Amish has grown by 100,000 since 2007 and 187,000 since 1992.

Yoder said there are plans for more families to move to Whitefield this spring.

KNEE-JERK REACTION?

Cory Anderson, an assistant professor of sociology and geography at Truman State University, in Missouri, has studied Amish travel patterns, history and safety. He said there usually is a knee-jerk reaction about how to make buggies more visible, including placing signs all over the area and adding easily seen, reflective ornaments to the Amish vehicles. While the signs have an effect, there is much more the local government can do.

The Amish in Whitefield, he said, are of the Swartzentruber order, which is known for being one of the most conservative and strict of the Amish orders. When Ohio State University came up with the slow-moving vehicle emblem — the red and orange triangle — most of the Amish orders accepted the emblem.

“Except the Swartzentrubers, who universally don’t accept the emblem,” Anderson said. “They’re not the only ones, but they’re most known for it.”

While having a bright orange triangle on the back of a buggy probably would catch a following driver’s attention, this order of Amish lives in an earth-toned environment, so this flashy symbol presents a condundrum.

“It’s really a bright splash of color that is not of their people,” Anderson said.

Dennis Hostetler moved his family from Kentucky and lives a short distance from the Yoders on Route 218. He said the reason the community doesn’t use the triangle is because of what the triangle has symbolized throughout history, though he didn’t provide specifics.

Anderson didn’t buy that reasoning and said when the Amish are pressed for an explanation and they’re convinced of what they’re doing without knowing why they’re doing it, they’ll come up with something.

He said local governments often look at ways to prevent more crashes, and they look to see what options are available. Then they bring those options to the Amish and say, ‘Do this and do that.’

“The Amish have a persecution complex, so when they start getting told what to do by the outside, they have this tendency to clam up and resist silently, which doesn’t make things better,” Anderson said.

In Unity, the Old Order Amish buggies have reflective lights that flash and the slow-moving-vehicle triangles, Selectman Penny Sampson said. There haven’t been any accidents, that she knows of, since the group came to town about a decade ago.

“As soon as they came in, we put the signs up, and that’s about all we did,” Sampson said.

There are signs on every road coming into Unity, she said, but one of the biggest differences between the two towns is that Unity has flat, wide roads, while Whitefield’s roads are narrow, curvy and hilly.

Hostetler said it doesn’t matter how many signs are scattered around Whitefield.

“The biggest need is for more awareness and less speed on these roads,” he said.

SAFE TRAVELS IN THE FUTURE

Allen said there is a work order for the DOT to install additional signage in Whitefield along Cooper Road, but he said it’s just a supplemental message. Allen said it typically takes six to 12 months for people to adapt when there is a change in a traffic pattern, and the Whitefield Amish moved to town about six months ago.

Yoder said he thinks signs around town are a great thing, but the Amish aren’t asking for signs every mile, and he isn’t sure they’d do much good. The two accidents in Whitefield occurred in broad daylight on a straight stretch of road. Yoder and Hostetler surmise the other drivers were either unaware or distracted.

“I think as a new community is established, (everyone) needs to be aware and cautious that we’re in the area,” Yoder said while taking a break from his job at a local sawmill. “We need to be cautious as well, especially looking for blind spots and making way.”

Yoder thinks it’ll take time for people in the community and the Amish to learn how to commute together, and there is a lot for Amish buggy operators to be aware of when traveling in Whitefield, or wherever.

The speed limit on East River Road — Route 218 — where the Yoders and Hostetlers live is 45 mph, but both men said vehicles regularly go much faster. Horse-drawn carriages typically travel 5 mph to 7 mph, and that is a drastic difference for drivers.

“You take your eyes off the road for a short bit, and you’re on these buggies a lot faster,” Anderson said. “People just aren’t ready for (the speed difference).”

Anderson said despite the Whitefield Amish’s unwillingness to add the triangles or any other reflective markings to their buggies, they are concerned about safety. He said there is a limit to what the Amish are willing to do when it comes to conforming to what is recommended or proposed by local officials, law enforcement and the transportation department.

Last week there was a fatal accident involving a horse-and-buggy rig in Michigan. Three Old Order Menonite children were killed and six people injured when a pickup truck crashed into the rear of the buggy. Anderson said that community is one where the buggies have the triangle emblem, LED lights and reflective tape, and it still didn’t prevent a tragic accident.

“One has to ask, is visibility actually the main issue?” Anderson said.

Whitefield Select Board Chairman Tony Marple said he expects to meet again before the end of year with members of the Amish community, and Anderson said it’s clear the town of Whitefield is concerned and doing what it can to make things safer.

“Everything I’ve read so far about the Whitefield community seems fairly positive,” Anderson said. “The way the Amish are responding is a really good sign.”

He said the local governments who’ve learned to work with the Amish do so out of the spotlight and keep things plain and low-key, just the way the Amish like it.

“Work with them to agree on solutions to the safety problems that the Amish can claim as their own solutions rather than solutions just put on them,” Anderson said. “I think that’s the best approach to handling this.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ