One of the ways the Old Order Amish stay tethered to their simpler, slower pace is by refusing to own automobiles. Notice the word is refuse to own, not use. There is a distinct difference in the two terms. The Amish fear that owning automobiles would tear apart the fabric of family life in much the same way it has non-Amish America. Suburbs now spread out like thin pancake batter on a hot griddle far from the city. People are disconnected, neighbors don’t know one another like they used to. By refusing to own cars (besides saving a ton on gas and insurance!), the Amish are making a statement about community and connection. Churches stay close-knit geographically because everyone needs to live close to one another when buggy is your main mode of transport. Like with many technologies, however, the Amish have made compromises to adapt to the changing world around them.
The reality is that to attend a wedding or funeral far away, horse-and-buggy is impractical. So the Amish will hire non-Amish drivers to take them. This can get pretty expensive and actually can offset the savings of not having car payments and insurance, depending on how many times an Amish person needs to hire a driver throughout the course of the year. In some smaller generally more conservative Amish settlements hiring a driver is still a relative rarity. In larger Amish areas it can be a weekly occurrence. In these communities the Amish often maintain a list of “Amish taxis”, non-Amish drivers who make their living driving Amish people around. While outsiders may roll their eyes or whisper “hypocrisy” at this practice, it still – in the eyes of the Amish – beats owning a car. By hiring a driver an Amish person can at least exercise a measure of control over how much the outside world encroaches on their existence.
Other modes of long-distance travel that are acceptable to the Amish include trains and buses. Airplane travel is generally not permitted, but some Old Order Amish, however, will fly to their destinations if the needs are urgent and faraway. In the far-flung Amish settlements of St. Ignatius and Rexford, Montana, air travel is relied on from time to time to visit family out east. So a theme you’ll read in many of these posts is also prevalent with this issue: since it’s impractical to totally shut-out certain technologies, the Amish will do what is in their minds the “next best thing” and that’s keep it at arm’s length.
Now, things are beginning to slowly change in regards to automobile ownership. A group of Amish known as the "Lobelville Amish" in Tennessee have one or two people in the community that can drive and they, as a group, own a van. The thinking here is that owning a vehicle and having a couple of people in the church who can drive it actually increases their self-sufficiency. No more "Amish taxi drivers", etc. Yet because not everyone can drive, there is still a reliance on horse-and-buggy.
This is a trend I think that you'll see more and more of: a slow-embrace of automobile ownership among the Amish so that they don't have to rely on outsiders. So, I hope this post has taught you that it is in't the car per se that the Amish are leery of, it's all the other ancillary impacts of the auto.
Related articles: A group of Amish in Michigan are slowly warming up to the car.