A Model T Ford Is the Michigan DOT’s Oldest Safety Vehicle

Model T Touring Ford

For a good long while, the main users of the paved highways and byways of the U.S. countryside have been cars. The transition from horse and buggy to automobile has not happened for all road users though, and to help ensure the safety of some vehicles that use a little more literal horsepower, the Michigan Department of Transportation has a very interesting tool:

A Model T Ford.

The State Highway Department of Michigan, as the Department of Transportation was initially known, was formed in 1905, a full three years prior to the Model T beginning production and long before the widespread adoption of the automobile. From the get-go, MDOT has been looking out for non-automotive road users, and the Model T makes the perfect tool to aid in that effort because Henry Ford had the T’s track width set to match that of a horse and buggy.

Since the roads at the time were designed to accommodate horse-drawn traffic, it only made sense for the Model T’s tires to fit into the already established paths created by the horses and buggies. Why try to blaze a new trail when you don’t have to?

But roads have since evolved, and the luxury of rapid vehicular transit is afforded to just about anyone with a couple thousand dollars and a pulse. And, of course, those who choose to embrace such modern technology, which is not everyone. Two such cultures that rely on horses and buggies are the Amish and Old Order Mennonites, who both have sizable populations in Michigan.

In order to incorporate the needs of those users in the planning and maintenance of Michigan’s roadways, the DOT heads out in a Model T on routes that see a lot of buggy traffic. The DOT’s staff observes road condition, shoulder width, and any potential safety hazards from the perspective of slower-moving transportation and is more able to effectively address those issues as a result. The team’s primary focus of late has been on Michigan route 91, where multiple crashes involving car and buggy have occurred.

Hopefully the creative use of the Model T—something that seems like old tech to most of us—will foster the improvements needed to keep all road users safe.


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    As a transportation engineer and antique automobile enthusiast, I really enjoyed this and the video by Michigan DOT. Now if only we had Amish and Old Order Mennonites in the my state in the south, I know what program I’d be starting up!

    I have to say, this story hits a certain relevant point. I’ve recently been considering the purchase of a JDM “Kei” pickup truck. For me they hit so many perfect points; economic to run, 4WD so I can plow the driveway, 4WD for use around the farm [lots of hills] plus A/C and can run down to the local feed store or hardware store for short errands. I have no plans to take this on an interstate or go for log drives so 40-50MPH top speed is perfectly fine. But in their infinite wisdom [or lack thereof] I see state after state starting to deny these things for use on the road. When asked why the classic answer is “they never passed USA Safety laws”. How ironic, I can register a Ford Model T with Z-E-R-O safety features, AND I can register and drive a M-O-T-O-R-C-Y-C-L-E but I cant register a late 90’s JDM truck? I blame the US Automakers for lobbying the states because they want us to buy their oversized, over featured, highly un-economic and WAY OVERPRICED pickup trucks instead. Well this guy refuses. For me, and especially where I live, the Kei truck makes more sense than an electric car too. When will spineless state lawmakers stop this stupidity. HELP!!!

    Ignorant ‘educators’ produce ignorant citizens who vote for too many ignorant politicians who in turn employ ignorant ‘public servants.’
    If we don’t get schools out of the grievance and perversion pedaling business our civilization is doomed.

    Oh dear. “Perversion”? Seriously? Could we just keep to cars, please, and check our conspiracy theories at the door?

    Thank you. I came to fill my scarce spare time with automotive information here not someone else’s politics.

    So thank you for point this out ….

    Thank you! Exactly my sentiments with the officials locally. No interest in doing anything more than politely listening while waiting orders from the top to come down.

    Actually you can’t “drive” a motorcycle. But, you can “ride” one.
    Sorry, that’s a pet peeve of mine.
    I agree wholeheartedly with your point, however.

    You have a valid point comparing a Kei truck to a motorcycle. It’s not the automakers lobbying the government, it’s the NHTSA safety laws (I think it’s still called NHSTA…). The Kei truck needs to be classified as something other than a passenger vehicle. Many states allow golf carts restricted road access. It would have to be something like that. But would you be okay being restricted to secondary roads, no major state/federal highways? Since you’re in a rural area that might work for you. If it’s going to go on major roads it needs to be safer. A motorcycle is a different animal altogether. There is an implied and rather obvious need to be more careful when operating one. Just anyone won’t jump on a motorcycle and go down the road, they might in a Kei truck/van since it looks and drives like a “regular” vehicle. If you get in a major accident with one you will be little safer than on a motorcycle. Somewhat safer, but not much.

    Actually ‘Auto’ track was basically forced onto the horse drawn industry in the teens as they had so many different horse drawn track widths that it made passage on muddy roads even harder for early automobiles.

    Thanks for that note. Bet there’s a great thesis to be written in that one. I get tired of hearing about four-feet-eight-and-a-half inches over and over.

    So many of my enjoyable driving experiences of 40-50 years ago would be extremely risky in today’s world of monumental & overweight pickup trucks & SUVs, people playing with their phones while “driving”, and traffic. I can’t imagine traveling by horse & buggy now, but I’ve always wished those folks good luck.

    There aren’t very many automobiles traveling the Amish communities of Pennsylvania. The roads there tend to be 2-lane blacktops with low speed limits. I haven’t visited any other Amish communities. As an automobile driver, it’s very similar to watching for kids on bicycles in suburbia.

    Our homeowner’s coverage was cancelled by AAA underwriters based on a year-old aerial photo (Google Earth, drone, U-2, or pigeon with a digital cam?) a few months ago. Our old insurer, Cal Casualty, agreed to reinstate us — IF we’d put on a new roof (almost $17K) which was finished today, but the rates reflect their perturbation in having us leave and return!
    A 1980 tract 3/2 with detached garage in a suburban neighborhood (corner lot, but not luxurious) it was cancelled because I had a ‘cluttered’ yard. My wife knocks herself out keeping 3/4 of the property looking wonderful: flower beds, rock gardens, well-trimmed shrubbery, and trees in variety — my 1/4 by the garage-shop had two cars and one bare frame showing outside. One is a ’54 Stude project, well tarped, the other a ’61 Pontiac Tempest V-8 (about 50-ish left in the world) that I was stripping to the metal. This car is primered and in the shop now, and besides a detached woodshed, little else is showing from above; the whole operation is surrounded by a 6-foot wood fence and not visible from outside unless the observer is on stilts!
    My shock was that ‘my’ property (bought and paid-for, taxes paid up, etc.) was vulnerable to the ‘spy in the sky’ operation of the underwriters — who made it plain that they weren’t interested in updating the photos, or anything else my 79-year-old carcass could do to improve the problem they perceived! No appeal, just cancelled. Also, I was informed — in a market where insurers are reluctant to even write policies in CA — that I am liable to an on-site inspector from the under-writers at their pleasure. So, I packed up all of my automotive paints and spray guns, and have them on a trailer to relocate somewhere else — if I get the chance! What they think about lawn-mower gas or an butane BBQ on-site, I can’t guess!
    A word to the wise… learned the hard way! And to think I only wanted a company with a local agent… ! Wick

    You wrote three paragraphs and not a single part of it had anything to do with this article?

    Haggerty: the ‘you’re posting to quickly; slow down’ message stops my replies even after 24 hours has elapsed; this is a continuing problem — one that I’ve seen others note — and has cost me two rather heartfelt posts being simply vaporized by your software so far! What difference does it make, if a reader wants to accept your invitation to reply more than once a day? C’mon, you gotta’ fix this glitch! Wick Humble

    This has happened to me the last 3 times I’ve tried to comment on an article. How can HyperV6 make multiple comments on a post and I can’t even once? No hate on HyperV6 though, I genuinely like hearing what he has to say lol.

    That happens all too frequently, and Hagerty staff never even respond, let alone fix it. What is up with that?

    Every time I see a Model T, I think “they mounted the steering wheel upside down”. That acorn nut attaching the wheel wouldn’t feel too good in a sudden stop.
    It wasn’t until 1956 before Ford realized this😉.

    In 1956, Ford came out with what was called The LIfeguard Steering Wheel. I was ten and I rmember it well.

    Now if MiDOT would use that Model T to judge where vegetation needs to be cut back at rural intersections, it would be helpful. Making that judgement from a truck cab eight feet above the road is not helpful

    “Wick” has a point and it very much does relate to our hobby. We usually try to keep our various projects behind fences and tarps, etc. because we don’t want our “eyesores” to upset the neighbors or the Karens in the HOA. When the insurance companies use drones to spy on us – and that is exactly what they are doing – anyone who doesn’t have an enclosed garage to work on their car is at risk of having their homeowner’s insurance canceled.

    In real estate, there is what is known as the full bundle of rights, The mnemonic is UDOPE (how appropriate), It stands for use, disposition, ownership, possession and enjoyment. If the insurance company uses a drone to regulate your life style (“we won’t insure you because you have an inoperable car in your back yard”), then they are effectively depriving you of two of the five rights – use and enjoyment. If you can’t get insurance, the lender can force place insurance that covers only THEM, and it is very expensive and they’ll have the same complaints.

    Class action suit anyone? It is illegal to shoot down drones (what a shame), but it is not illegal to sue insurance companies.

    Shoot, can’t everyone see that this is just some highway engineers’ boondoggle excuse to go out country cruising for days on end in a cute little Model T? Bet that crew packs for a nice picnic in some Amish glade every time out in a big wicker basket hanging off the back…and laughing at all the other DOT stiffs slaving away in the hot sun on summer asphalt paving projects, bridge repairs, potholes and even more boring issues than maintaining ancient rut spans.

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