The Amish Lifestyle and the Automobile:
Why are the Amish allowed to use cars but forbidden from owning one?

One of the most interesting puzzles about the Amish lifestyle is why the Amish are forbidden from owning cars but allowed to use them.

The introduction of the automobile in the early twentieth century posed a problem for the Amish. This problem raised the question of whether the practical value of modern technology outweighs the long-held Amish concern that modern technology leads to the breakdown of social values, religious purity and community unity.

The Amish people of Lancaster County have faced this ambivalence towards modern technology in other aspects of Amish living. For instance, the use of modern tractors and hay balers on Amish farms also provided controversy where labor-saving technology was weighed against deeply held traditions of the Amish lifestyle.

The Amish people value traditions, community, and the slowness of life. On the other hand, Amish life also values hard work, helping one's neighbors, and the survival of their culture.

If a new technology is accepted, the central question becomes how does the group deal with a technological innovation that has the potential to strengthen the community while at the same time being in opposition to some of their most long-held values?

The threat of the automobile to the traditional Amish lifestyle includes the following:

  • Quick and easy access to cities and non-Amish lifestyles might expose members to views that conflict with Amish teachings. Such views might weaken a member's faith and seduce them into leaving the community;
  • Local church districts might erode if members had transportation to enable them to live wherever they wished. Traditionally, due to the limitations of horse and buggy travel, the Amish tended to live within close proximity of their congregation. This physical proximity of the members created a strong bond that promoted community fellowship and survival of the group. This bond would be weakened if members had the freedom to live at greater distances to other members of their congregation;
  • Car ownership might promote individualism. A large part of the closeness and survival of the Amish communities lies in the fact that members are mutually dependent upon each other. Neighbors helping neighbors has been a long-standing bedrock of the Amish lifestyle. Many people feel that the practical benefits of speed, efficiency, and power of the automobile eliminates the need of one neighbor seeking the assistance of another neighbor.
  • Ownership of automobiles might promote vanity and threaten the Amish virtue of equality. Equality and humility are very important to Amish society. This can be seen in the uniformity of amish clothing which discourages one member to stand out from another. Since automobiles come in all sorts of sizes, styles, colors, price ranges and so forth and because not every member would be able to afford one, car ownership would shake up community equality. What is worse, the automobile might became a status symbol and a source of vanity as it often is in the non-Amish world.
  • The automobile might accelerate the pace of Amish life. The Amish have always valued the slowness of life. The time and opportunity to savor the relationship between humanity and God; humans and nature; and humans among other humans. The speed, power, and noise of the automobile might destroy this human connection which is fostered by horse and buggy travel. The joy of human contact might be replaced by the intoxicating allure of sensation and immediate gratification.
Nevertheless, the practical benefits of the automobile could not be denied. During the 1940's and 1950's the Amish settlements began expanding outside Lancaster County to neighboring counties. It became increasingly more difficult for individuals to travel by horse and buggy to visit family and friends as well as attend important social events such as weddings, funerals, barn-raisings, and auctions.

Therefore, the use of the automobile was gradually seen as helpful to the Amish lifestyle in uniting larger settlements as well as uniting settlements from neighboring counties.

The Amish Taxi

The "Amish Taxi" refers to a service initiated in the 1950's where a non-Amish neighbor would transport Amish to social and business functions on a regular, paid basis.

Today, dozens of non-Amish "taxi drivers" in Lancaster County earn an income in this fashion.

This service became increasingly useful in 1970's as an increase in the Amish population in Lancaster County led many Amish to seek out non-farm occupations. Such occupations such as mobile construction companies required vans to transport crews to various work sites. Likewise Amish cottage industries such as Amish craft shops required trucks to transport supplies and merchandise.

The non-Amish owners of these vans and trucks are usually paid based upon the mileage from the use of their vehicles. Oftentimes, Amish businesses employ a non-Amish individual simply for these taxiing services.

It should be noted that the Amish are allowed to hire these taxis for necessary social and business purposes only. Hiring an Amish taxi for a strictly pleasurable trip is discouraged. Also, the use of the taxis is also discouraged on Sundays. Usually Sunday taxi trips are limited to emergencies such as visiting relatives who are very ill.

Prohibition Against Car Ownership

Although the Amish are allowed to use automobiles for social and business functions, the church rules prohibit members from owning as well as driving a car.

Amish businessmen are also not allowed to provide loans to non-Amish employees for the purpose of buying a vehicle.

Ownership of an automobile is considered a taboo. It is important to the community to maintain the horse and buggy as a symbol of Amish identity.

Overall, the cultural compromise of prohibiting members from owning and driving cars but permitting the use of the cars via "Amish taxis" for necessary social and business purposes, protects the stability, equality, and identity of their community while allowing the Amish lifestyle to flourish socially and financially.

The traditional virtue of community harmony is balanced with the practical convenience of modern technology.

To learn more about the Amish lifestyle in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, please see the following pages:

Adult Baptism Amish and Mennonites Amish Children Amish Church Services Amish Clothing
Amish Culture Amish Dolls Amish Education Amish
Folk Art
Amish Food
Amish History Amish Homes Amish Religion Amish Way of Life Amish Weddings
Amish Women Barn Raising Health Care and Modern Medicine Horse and Buggies Ordnung
Rumspringa Shunning Within the Amish Community Technology and the Amish Farm

Back to an Introduction to the Amish People of Lancaster County

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Cars and the Amish Lifestyle

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