Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Orientation and Mobility: Hybrid Cars Deemed Too Quiet for Pedestrians

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Orientation and Mobility: Hybrid Cars Deemed Too Quiet for Pedestrians

Article excerpt

Hybrid vehicles or hybrid-electric vehicles, which operate with internal combustion engines and electric motors that are generally powered by electric batteries, make virtually no noise when moving at slower speeds when they run solely on electric power. The Committee on Automotive and Pedestrian Safety of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), which was originally formed in the spring of 2004, recently found that such vehicles cannot be detected auditorily when operating with electric power, thus posing a hazard to people who are blind or visually impaired who rely on their hearing to determine whether a vehicle is present when crossing a street or walking through a parking lot. The tests conducted by NFB involved people standing in parking lots or on sidewalks who were asked to signal when they heard several different hybrid models drive by. "People [asked] 'When are they going to start the test?' And ... the vehicle had already done two or three laps around the parking lot," said Deborah Kent Stein, chair of the Committee on Automotive and Pedestrian Safety.

Although manufacturers are aware of the problem posed by such quiet vehicles, none have taken action to develop louder hybrid vehicles since the quiet operation of these vehicles is seen as a selling point. In addition to the automotive industry, NFB has appealed to federal and state agencies to include minimum sound standards for hybrid vehicles in emissions regulations. Specifically, the Maryland affiliate of NFB succeeded in influencing the General Assembly of Maryland to include language in the Clean Cars Act of 2007 directing the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), which is responsible for regulating hybrid vehicles, to take into consideration the needs of pedestrians who are blind. According to an article in the November 2007 issue of NFB's Braille Monitor, when the MDE's draft regulations for the implementation of this law were released for public comment, it did not address the needs of people who are blind. …

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