Traveling through the Daviess County Amish country can sometimes be a challenge. In the past it has been the difficulty of mixing motorized modern traffic with horse and buggies along smaller rural roadways, then mix in a little dust and a few potholes.
Now officials are noticing an additional challenge. The back roads are seeing an increasingly number of Amish riding bikes.
"Apparently, this year, I have heard, the bishops have authorized the use of bicycles," said Daviess County Commissioner Nathan Gabhart. "It's a new addition. I guess before now they had not been allowed to use them."
What the churches' new ruling has done is suddenly put a significant number of people who are inexperienced in riding bikes out on the road, and that is adding to the safety concerns. "There are a lot of them out there, hundreds of them," said Daviess County Chief Deputy Gary Allison. "That lack of experience, that a lot of people put together riding bikes as kids, is something they don't have and that adds to the danger."
"I don't know exactly how many bikes we have now, but I know it is quite a few," added Gabhart. "I believe we have around 10,000 Amish in the county. That's the last figure I heard, so the bicycles are rampant out there and the bicycle techniques are perhaps less than desirable. It just seems like there is a safety issue."
County officials are working on some outreach into the Amish community to possibly add some bike safety events. The county has been successful in the past in working with the Amish Safety Committee on educational events like safer buggy operations on the newly redesigned CR 900E. Local leaders believe bicycle safety events might also be a good topic.
"The sheriff has reached out and talked with the safety committee about it," said Allison. "So, far nothing is set."
"I believe Sheriff' Harbstreit and (County Highway Superintendent) Phil Cornelius have been speaking to the safety committee," added Gabhart. "We want to alert them to what we are seeing and discuss the possibility of a safe night out event or some type of community event to increase awareness. Right now we are in the discussion phases of that."
The addition of bicycles in the Amish community through Barr and Van Buren Townships has had some surprising responses. "I have seen a lot of them wearing reflective vests and even some wearing lighted vests," said Allison.
Part of the safety challenge has also been that much much of the road construction being done in Daviess County has included the Amish area. CR 900E and St. Mary's Road are both undergoing major improvements and that has meant traffic moving through detour areas with the bicycle traffic. "That construction is not helping anything," said Gabhart. "We are seeing them all over. They are traveling all over the county on bikes. I came up behind some riding down (SR) 57 the other day."
Even with the explosion of bicycles in the Amish country, officials say the county has been fortunate in terms of serious accidents. "We have had no serious accidents reported yet," said Allison. "It only takes one to turn this into a much bigger problem. We're trying to avoid that first one."