Teaching Amish to Drive a Car

Horse and buggy are his daily mode of transportation.

He wanted to drive. A car!

In his uber strict - Swartzentruber - order, vehicles are verboten! Cars are worldly.

The Ordnung says he may use an English driver only in the case of a medical emergency. And using anything with rubber wheels - a bicycle - is verboten. Inflated tires are wrong.

He could face public discipline. Put in the bann (temporary shunning) if discovered.

Determined to drive, he arranged to ride with an ex-Amish (also verboten) to the DMV for his Learner's Permit. Afterward, he called me. "I need practice," he explained.

He'd made his decision. There was no reason for me to argue or remind him of the consequences.

So wee early in the morning - while still dark - I drove out to his farm, hopped out, and went around to the passenger seat. Under cover and secrecy of darkness, he climbed into the driver's seat (as I silently prayed for safety), buckled his seat belt and removed and tossed his black Amish hat in the backseat. He sat looking inquiringly at me.

"Ever driven?" I asked.

"Only a forklift," he answered with a grin. "And that was an emergency situation." He gave a nervous chuckle.

I explained how to move the driver's seat for his comfort. The need to adjust mirrors for maximum view. Check the engine's system. Lights. Familiarize himself with the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, and other minor instructions.

He put my car in "drive" and we slowly rolled off his long gravel driveway. He laughed.

As we neared the main road, I reminded, "Put on your blinker."

He pulled onto the main road and, with a jerk, we took off at a higher speed. "Guess I pushed too hard on the gas pedal," he acknowledged.

For several days, he asked me to come to his secluded Amish farm either early in the morning or after dusk. Some days he'd ask me to drive until we were out of his settlement - away from prying eyes that would tell on him. Fearful of being caught, he'd always toss his black hat in the backseat, and push his required long hair behind his ears.

Several driving lessons later I asked, "Ever put gas in a car?"


"Time to learn." I explained the steps. After he filled my gas tank up several other times, I rested in the car confidently waiting for my student.

One day I noticed something that needed corrected. Not a safety issue, more of an telling one.

"I don't want to make fun of you but, you might want to correct something."


"I've noticed that you back - rear first - out of the driver's seat like you dismount a buggy."

"How do I get out of a car?"

"Swing your legs out first, then your body. Otherwise, it looks like you're getting out of a buggy and that could be a giveaway."

We shared lots of laughs during our driving lessons. And great discussions. Our friendship grew. We talked theology, Swartzentruber rules, his family, my family, and other personal topics. He said that he'd been secretly reading the Bible in English. Only German-language Bibles are permitted. He told me how other Amish watch each other and try to stir up trouble with tattling or gossip.

Unlike some I know who are militant know-it-alls, he was humble. Teachable. Eager to learn. I complimented him for those qualities, knowing that compliments among Swartzentrubers are rare. Verbal acknowledgements or compliments are taken as "prideful," thus they're avoided.

His accelerating, driving, and braking skills improved. Because he was 30-years-old with five children at home, he wasn't as eager to speed and test the limits like some of the younger boys.

Sometimes we'd pull into a fast-food restaurant and, he'd practice his leg-first exit. "I want to practice so I do it right," he said. I patiently sat in the passenger seat while he repeatedly got in and out behind the steering wheel.

One day, I said, "You may want to learn how to use the pull-through window." Slowly we rolled between the curbs up to the sliding window. Proud of this new English accomplishment, he ordered coffee for both of us. All the time his black Amish hat remained hidden in the back seat.

But one day his fears tested our safety!

He was driving up a hill toward the parking lot of Keim Lumber Company. Coming down the hill towards us was a black buggy. Driving the buggy was another Swartzentruber Amishman. "Oh no! I know him." He panicked and hid down. Behind the steering wheel. Still driving.

"No!" I shouted watching us near the road's drop-off. "You can't duck and drive!"

He popped back up and quickly corrected our doomed drop-off. Then he proceeded into the parking lot and maneuvering into a spot. "Ugh," I said. "We need to talk about what just happened."

Inside the lumber company, he scurried off to an appointment. I entertained myself looking around to buy him a pair of "forbidden" sunglasses. Swartzentruber Amish aren't allowed to wear sunglasses. Since his eyes are hazel - an eye color that's extremely sensitive to light - I thought it a safety purchase.

On the drive back to his settlement, he proudly and comfortably, wore his new sunglasses. "Yes, I can see the road better. But I'll have to keep these hidden at home."

A few days later, I received a text from him. Yes, he had a cell phone for his business. He wasn't allowed one for any other purpose. Cell phones are "worldly." His text told me that he was ready to take his drivers test for a permanent license. "May I use your car for the examination?"

I drove out the morning of his appointed day for the driver's test. After driving my new friend beyond the settlement, I pulled over on an unnamed country road and we switched drivers. He drove into town and to the DMV. It must've looked a bit strange to the employees there to see a long-haired, bearded Amish man, dressed in his homemade blue denim clothing, black hat, and sunglasses taking a number for his driver's test. It probably shocked them more to see him pull out his cell phone.

He passed! The first time. Even the difficult agility test where the candidate maneuver between precisely placed, orange cones.

A few days afterward, I received another text from him. "I bought a van."

Oh brother, I thought. Here we go. Where's he going to hide the "worldly" vehicle? When is he going to tell his wife of his "sin?" Will he make the required confession to others? How will he continue this double-life? Or will he? Come back for upcoming posts about this precious Swartzentruber Amishman and the outcome.

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(c)Copyright 2014. Brenda Nixon.


  1. I commend this young man for this accomplishment. I also pray that the Lord will lead him and help him in whatever decision he makes for himself and his family. As a side note, I smiled as I visualized his "exit" from the car buggy style. I'd never thought of that as a learning curve. Props to you, Brenda. I taught my 3 kids how to drive, so I know how you must've felt.
    I do have some questions. How was he able to get his permit and license? Did he have a social security, birth certificate, & other necessary documents? If so, how did that happen?
    As always, really enjoyed the blog!

    1. Thanks for your comments Dali. As for answers to your questions:
      1) his brother, who'd already left the Amish, drove him to the DMV.
      2) yes he had a SS # & birth certificate. He's a business owner and deals a lot with English and retail businesses so he had exposure to the ways of the English and a great PR with people.

    2. What i don't understand we all sin and fall short of the Glory of God,their life style is not going to get them in Heaven no quicker than any one else.We all who wants to go to Heaven to be with Jesus will have to have Faith in Jesus not the priest, listen to the Word of God.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. I look forward to the continuation of his story.

    1. You'll get a continuation of his story in coming month - prob around May :)

  3. Enjoyed reading this blog! It reminded me of how I felt the first time I drove a vehicle on the road after leaving the Amish. :)

  4. Good story Brenda. You are in such a unique position to help out these people. They will come to you and deal with you, where us who have been Amish and are shunned, are more off limits for them. Yes, I know they are already breaking the rules, but there is such a stigma on us shunned ones, especially in the strict orders, that it is easier for them to come to someone like you.
    Thanks for what you do for those Amish and formers who come into your life

    1. Thank you dear Henry. You have no stigma with me :-)

  5. In the heat of the moment, you invented a brilliant new name for a hazardous practice: "duck and drive." Hollywood's best screenwriters could not have come up with a better phrase.

    1. Hmm, maybe they'll make a new TV reality show about student drivers called "Duck and Drive."

  6. We do business with the Amish. They're good hard working people in our experience. A bit different, but certainly in a good way. Overall, this society would be a whole lot better off if we all had the faith, work ethic, and self-reliant accountability of the average Amish adult. Are there bad ones in the bunch? Sure, because they’re humans. But in our experience we’d trust the average Amish at their word more than we would the average “English”. The more this society slips downward, the more we respect the Amish, www.amishcabincompany.com

    1. Interesting to note: this Swartzentruber man is a very good business owner. Other than having their "faith," I do agree with your comment that most have a strong work ethic and are self-reliant. I encourage you to read former and future posts here to expand your knowledge of the Swartzentruber Amish, with whom you work. Best wishes in your business.

  7. So fascinating, fun -- brave of him, and you too. I had to smile at the backing out of the car like getting out of a buggy! :)

    Would that we ALL are so teachable.

    1. Thanks for your comments Lynette. I was particularly impressed with his self-imposed practice so he could do it right.