Visually impaired say hybrid vehicles dangerously quiet

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Hybrid cars may be good for the environment but theyíre not too friendly to the visually impaired, Halifax regional councillors learned this week.

In fact, the gas and electric cars are so quiet they pose "a significant danger" to pedestrians, particularly those who are blind or partially sighted, says city hallís advisory committee for people with disabilities.

After many discussions, the committee came to the conclusion that hybrid cars should be louder.

"Consider that individuals who have vision loss rely predominantly on the sound of traffic flow to determine when to cross at an intersection or crosswalk," the committee said in a brief report to council.

But "if there is no sound produced from the approaching vehicle, and the pedestrian cannot see it, the risk factor for being struck by the vehicle is significant."

The danger of quiet vehicles also extends to other groups, the report said, including children on bikes and distracted walkers listening to MP3 players or IPods.

Coun. Mary Wile (Clayton Park West) sits on councilís disabilities committee and has taken part in exercises where participants simulate being blind. She said itís hard to know when to cross the street.

"You rely on the sound of the cars," she said.

After a brief debate, council agreed to write a letter to manufacturers and trade associations in the auto industry urging them to adopt a standard for the sound levels of hybrid vehicles. Not all were convinced it was a good idea, though.

Coun. Gloria McCluskey (Dartmouth Centre) owns a hybrid car and said Thursday that they are so quiet at stoplights that "itís almost like theyíre shut off."

"But I donít think thatís the answer to crossings," she said of making the vehicles noisier.
"Thatís where we need to be putting the (audible) signals in. Thatís the safest thing for (the visually impaired), not relying on cars."

Likewise, Coun. Andrew Younger (East Dartmouth-The Lakes) said heís wary about asking the auto industry to increase the noise levels of vehicles.

"My concern is that weíre writing a letter about something that weíve not fully looked into the implications," he said Thursday.

The National Federation of the Blind in the U.S. and the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians are already advocating legislation that would mandate a sound level standard for hybrid vehicles.

But the Canadian National Institute for the Blind is holding off until the issue is fully looked into, the CNIBís national co-ordinator of accessible design services said Thursday from Toronto.

"Weíre definitely aware of the difficulties that are posed by hybrid cars," Lesley MacDonald said. "And it is recognized that there needs to be something done."

The organization supports more research into the frequency, range and volume of hybrid carsí sound, she said.

"But itís not as simple as just putting a noise in there," she said.

Ms. MacDonald isnít sure yet if the research would mean the CNIB would approach car manufacturers about changing the way they make cars.

"We havenít come to that point, but maybe once research is done," she said.

Richard Jacobs of Honda Canada said the Honda Civic hybrid "isnít silent."

"Our hybrid is different from all others in that they run primarily off the gasoline engine," he said from Toronto.

In Honda hybrids, the electric motor essentially adds supplemental power, he said.

"And without getting too technical . . . the flywheel is still turning, so the car, in a sense, is still making noise just like a regular car would."

Over at Ford in Montreal, public affairs manager Christine Hollander said its hybrid cars are "not completely silent" either.

"Our vehicles, they do make a sound," she said of the Ford Escape hybrid.

"Thereís a fan and there are some sounds coming out of the vehicle."

Geez... you just can't please everyone can you?

The problem here is that everyone is acustomed to hearing the regular noises of a gas powered vehicle and now they don't hear them as much and they're complaining. cripes..... there's always something.

Tie some tin cans on the back of your car and the problem's solved.

What's next? Do they want bicyclists to start clamping baseball cards to their spokes?
Bicyclists here use bells a lot, because they're aware of exactly this problem Praxius. When zipping through a park or anywhere with pedestrians around, they ring out so that people are aware they're coming.

It seems to me that it's not an altogether bad idea to have some form of noise added at city speeds. I know it seems ridiculously reactionary at face value, but, having kids and a blind friend, it makes sense to me.
You mean to tell me they can not hear the tires moving along the road? I know my hearing isn't all that perfect, but even I can hear that. And besides, throw some of the responsibility on the drivers themselves.... if they see someone strolling along the road, honk the horn..... or stop. They're supposed to be keeping an eye on the roads and if someone is crossing, then they best avoid them.

I just find it funny because of already existing noise pollution laws and people getting fined for having loud mufflers or no mufflers at all.... now they want noise? Now it'll be a balancing act on what's too loud and what's too quiet.

Then what do you do for the deaf and dumb? Make the cars vibrate the roads as they go by? Seriously the amount our societies attempt to accomidate every single different thing is starting to get a little insane if you ask me.
Last edited by Praxius; May 16th, 2008 at 03:05 PM..
Over other city noise? No, not until the vehicle is dangerously close.
I own a Toyota hybrid. There are times at quite low speed, when it doesn't make a lot of noise. At low speed, under several different conditions, the car could be running on the battery and be very quiet but at 25 or 30 mph there is just as much road noise as any other car. Just normal caution and courtesy should suffice.
lone wolf
...and if caution and courtesy fail, a set of Nathan M5's will get anyone's attention



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