For many people, the word ‘Amish’ is synonymous with a number of things. Hard work, beards, farming, horse-drawn buggies and religion being the more common associations. Drunk driving, however, is not usually something one associates with the Amish, and with good reason – their religion frowns on intoxication and in some cases, bans it completely.
So the drunken Amish couple who were pulled over in their horse and buggy recently are a somewhat unprecedented situation, as are the Michigan laws that dictate their consequences.
Media sources report that numerous 911 calls came in about an Amish couple in a traditional horse and buggy on a Saturday before noon. This may not have been big news in Branch County, Michigan, but the fact that they were travelling south down the Fenn Road exit ramp into northbound traffic on I-69 was!
It was raining at the time, and the traffic was heavy, making the situation possibly more dangerous. In response, a Michigan State Police Trooper stopped the couple in one of the truck weigh station lanes about a mile south of the interchange. It was then discovered that the couple were intoxicated, a fact backed up by the fifth of alcohol police discovered inside their buggy, under a blanket.
Interestingly, this wasn’t the first time that day that this particular couple and their horse-drawn buggy had encountered the police. The Coldwater Police had apparently stopped the same couple earlier that day, also in relation to intoxication, but didn’t have cause to hold them.
Michigan State Police officers drove the couple back to their home in Algansee township, and the Branch County Sheriff’s Office had deputies bring in a horse trailer because returning the horse and buggy to the couple’s farm via the highway would have been dangerous. Given this situation, one would have expected the couple to be arrested for drunk driving and jailed, not given a ride home. But Michigan law, it seems, is very specific about this.
Under Michigan law, Operating While Intoxicated is clearly explained as being Section 257.625 of the Michigan Vehicle Code refers explicitly to operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, motor vehicle being the key words there. It does not include a horse, and any kind of horse-drawn conveyance, in the law’s description of a vehicle.
According to Michigan state law, a “motor vehicle” can refer to just about anything with a motor, however small and insignificant seeming. This means that a person can be arrested for drunk driving in a car, on a motorcycle, and even on a snowmobile, ATV, or riding lawnmower. A horse and cart, however, do not count. For this reason, the couple cannot be charged for drunk driving.
Updates to the story say that the Michigan State Police were once again called to the couple’s home that night to deal with a problem, but no information is available regarding the nature of the domestic disturbance. MSP officers are continuing to investigate the situation, and may seek charges against the couple in the future. With regard to other consequences, apparently the Amish Bishop in the couple’s community has taken away their horse and buggy.