Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Detecting Approaching Vehicles at Streets with No Traffic Control

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Detecting Approaching Vehicles at Streets with No Traffic Control

Article excerpt

Abstract: This study assessed the ability of people with visual impairments to reliably detect oncoming traffic at crossing situations with no traffic control. In at least one condition, the participants could not hear vehicles to afford a safe crossing time when sound levels were as quiet as possible. Significant predictors of detection accounted for a third of the variation in the detection time


For pedestrians with visual impairments (that is, those who are blind or have low vision), crossing a street where there is no traffic control can present a challenge. Crossing situations with no traffic controls include residential intersections where only one street has a stop sign, channelized right-turn lanes with no signal, midblock locations, and roundabouts. In these situations, pedestrians must cross either when drivers yield or in a gap in traffic. Because drivers often do not reliably yield to pedestrians, even those with white canes (Geruschat & Hassan, 2005; Guth, Ashmead, Long, Wall, & Ponchillia, 2005; Inman, Davis, & Sauerburger, 2005; Sauerburger, 2003), pedestrians often must cross in a gap in traffic. For a pedestrian to cross in a gap in traffic, gaps must exist that are long enough to allow time to cross, and the pedestrian must be able to recognize when these gaps exist (Sauerburger, 1999).

Pedestrians who are visually impaired use their hearing to detect approaching vehicles and gaps in traffic. Strategies for using hearing to cross streets with no traffic control were first developed in the late 1940s (Wiener & Siffermann, 1997). Early orientation and mobility (O&M) instructors used demonstrations to convince their students, veterans who were blind, that streets were clear to cross whenever the environment was quiet (Sauerburger, 1999). By measuring the time from when the veteran heard a vehicle approaching to when the vehicle arrived, they determined that all vehicles could be heard far enough away to know that it was clear to cross whenever it was quiet. For pedestrians who are blind, the strategy of "cross when quiet," for streets where there is no traffic control, continues to be used today (Allen, Courtney-Barbier, Griffith, Kern, & Shaw, 1997; Jacobson, 1993; LaGrow & Weessies, 1994; Pogrund et al., 1993).

In the traffic environment of the 1940s and 1950s, the strategy of "crossing when quiet" was probably effective, but decades later, Sauerburger (1989, 1995, 1999, 2006) and Snook-Hill and Sauerburger (1996) observed that there were situations in which, even when it was quiet, approaching vehicles could not be heard well enough to be detected with sufficient warning to know whether there was a gap in traffic that was long enough in which to cross. In the 1940s, the strategy of "crossing when quiet" was effective because vehicles were louder. Prior to 1972, the sound level of vehicles in the United States was commonly 90 decibels (dB) (Wiener & Lawson, 1997), but the U.S. Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1970 and the Noise Control Act of 1972 directed the Federal Highway Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, respectively, to develop standards for mitigating highway traffic noise, and currently automobile manufacturers in the United States design cars to meet the European noise limit of 78 dBA (Federal Highway Administration, 1995). Because the dB scale is logarithmic, observers perceive a decrease of 10 dB as a halving of the sound level, so the sound of passenger cars was reduced to less than half of what it was before 1972. The trend toward quieter vehicles is expected to continue as hybrid and electric vehicles become more prevalent (Wiener, Naghshineh, Salisbury, & Rozema, 2006). The decrease in the general sound level of vehicles demands that the strategy of crossing when quiet be investigated again to establish its usefulness.

Sauerburger (2006) discussed strategies for teaching pedestrians who are blind how to recognize when it is not possible to hear or see the traffic sufficiently far enough away to know when it is clear to cross at streets with no traffic control. …

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