• Apr 23rd 2009 at 10:27AM
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2010 Toyota Prius – Click above for a high-res image gallery

According to the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, just introduced by U.S. Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Arlen Specter (R-PA), "New vehicles that employ hybrid or electric engine technology can be silent, rendering them extremely dangerous in situations where vehicles and pedestrians come into proximity with each other."

For this reason, the aforementioned bipartisan bill would require that the government "conduct a study on how to protect the blind and others from being injured or killed by vehicles using hybrid, electric, and other silent engine technologies." Companies like Lotus Engineering and Harmon International are already one step ahead of this legislation with products intended to add some extra sound to silent vehicles.

Interestingly, it was just over a year ago that the last study into the dangers of hybrid and electric vehicles was started as directed by the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2008, leaving us to wonder what progress, if any, has been made on the issue over the last year.


U.S. Senators John Kerry and Arlen Specter Introduce Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act

National Federation of the Blind Applauds Measure to Protect Lives and Preserve Independence of Blind Americans

WASHINGTON, April 22 -- Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) today introduced a bill, S. 841, intended to protect the blind and other pedestrians from injury or death as a result of silent vehicle technology. The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 requires the Secretary of Transportation to conduct a study on how to protect the blind and others from being injured or killed by vehicles using hybrid, electric, and other silent engine technologies.

Because blind pedestrians cannot locate and evaluate traffic using their vision, they must listen to traffic to discern its speed, direction, and other attributes in order to travel safely and independently. Other people, including pedestrians who are not blind, bicyclists, runners, and small children, also benefit from hearing the sound of vehicle engines. New vehicles that employ hybrid or electric engine technology can be silent, rendering them extremely dangerous in situations where vehicles and pedestrians come into proximity with each other.

"The National Federation of the Blind appreciates the wise and decisive action taken today by Senators Kerry and Specter to preserve the right to safe and independent travel for the blind," said Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind. "The blind, like all pedestrians, must be able to travel to work, to school, to church, and to other places in our communities without being injured or killed. This bill will benefit all pedestrians for generations to come as new vehicle technologies become more prevalent. The blind of America will do everything in our power to ensure its swift passage."

"I'm a major proponent of hybrid vehicles -- I own one, I drive one, and I've seen firsthand their environmental and economic benefits," said Senator Kerry. "The market is demanding new technologies in the auto industry, and Americans are demanding we finally kick our foreign oil addiction. As we continue to promote our energy independence, however, we must do more to ensure the safety of those who use senses other than sight to navigate the roads. I look forward to working with Secretary LaHood to ensure that hybrid vehicles are safe for everyone."

"Blind people have the same right to safe travel as all other pedestrians," said Senator Specter. "I look forward to working with my colleagues on this important legislation to ensure that the blind and other pedestrians can continue to travel safely and independently."

About the National Federation of the Blind

With more than 50,000 members, the National Federation of the Blind is the largest and most influential membership organization of blind people in the United States. The NFB improves blind people's lives through advocacy, education, research, technology, and programs encouraging independence and self-confidence. It is the leading force in the blindness field today and the voice of the nation's blind. In January 2004 the NFB opened the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, the first research and training center in the United States for the blind led by the blind.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      This is proof that no matter WHAT you do, you are damned in this country, and that you could cure cancer, aids, the oil crisis, and the energy demand, and someone would STILL complain.

      The simplest solution is the best solution - keep blind people out of the road. It works along the same principle as keeping a pedophile out of a daycare, or an alcoholic out of a bar.

      • 6 Years Ago
      100 years ago, in some places, they would require a man to walk in front of a car ringing a bell, as not to scare people or horses. I'll bet some of those laws are still on the books. Just imagine how many people we could employ, plus they would get exercise, reducing health care costs. On the side, the environmental impact of smelting the bronze for all the bells might impact the positive impact of the Prius.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Ok, it is up to the driver to watch out for people in the road. Furthermore, hybrid vehicles are still equipped with a horn, a steering wheel, and brakes. The money for this should be diverted to finding a cure for blindness...what a joke...REVOLUTION NOW! lol
      • 6 Years Ago
      This is ridiculous. The problem has been around before hybrids. It's can be difficult to hear a city bus coming and pedestrians (blind or sighted) have been having to deal with them for decades now.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Time to upgrade the blog commenting software. I hate losing my comments and having to retype them just because someone else posted between me hitting "Reply" and "Add Comment".

      Anyway: this is sorta what I said:

      Vehicles with every type of propulsion can be quiet. It's not the exclusive domain of electric motors to be indistinguishable from ambient sound.

      But then, it's only a problem at low speeds -- and we're talking parking speeds, not neighborhood driving speeds.

      And then, it can only be said to be a problem when reversing.

      So the solution is to fit warning beepers that sound when reversing, like on refuse trucks. Right? And it should be for *all* vehicles; not just electrically powered vehicles.

      Which is BS. Drivers should pay attention when parking.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Maybe they could add a soundtrack of a V8 engine to the Prius.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Nah, a Ferrari Enzo.
        • 6 Years Ago
        That is also a good choice.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Nay, Fran Drescher.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I would disable it. If I couldn't , that would be a deal breaker for me and i would not buy the car. Part of the allure of an EV, IS the silence. So a blind person and can hear a car coming and back flip out of the way because the dumb ass driver didn't stop? EVs still have a tire friction from the road sound, or the screaching brakes would make noise. This is dumb. This sounds like ass talk. Lets create more noise pollution for extremely rare occurrences.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Let's say I'm blind. I'm crossing a street and I hear a car approaching. It seems my only choices are:

      1. Start running instead of walking and hope I don't get into worse trouble.
      2. Run in the opposite direction of the noise.
      3. Jump on the seeing eye dog and kick my spurs.

      My point is that hearing a car approaching doesn't help.
        • 6 Years Ago
        That conclusion is stupid. I know as a person who sees, hearing a car has kept me from making the mistake of stepping out on the road at the wrong time once or twice... I'm not even comfortable with crossing the street with my headphones in, so I can only assume for a blind person the ability to hear a car is that much more important. It also has a lot to do with starting to walk across the street and hearing a car, not already being out in the middle of the street when the car is coming (either way, it helps to hear it).

        Now that's not to say this study will produce any fruitful results. For the most part the only time my hearing has really made a difference is to warn me a car is speeding my way, which even a hybrid will be audible if they are being reckless. This is why they're mandating a study though and not fake engine sounds.
        • 6 Years Ago
        His point is valid though, it's the responsibility of the driver not to hit the pedestrian. I've never seen a blind person just step off a curb, they're surprisingly predicible and cross at things like corners and use cross-walks. Maybe it's an adaptation for survival but they follow the rule regarding crossing the streets and such, is it too much to ask a driver to be aware of their surroundings and yielding?
        • 6 Years Ago
        "My point is that hearing a car approaching doesn't help."

        Are you serious? 0.o
      • 6 Years Ago
      BTW. It's Harman International, spelt H-A-R-M-A-N. As in the owner of harman/kardon, JBL, Lexicon, and infiniti.

      Sorry, I just felt it needed correcting. Same thing in the link to the other article.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Hybrids and EVs are not totally silent. You do here the noise of the tires rolling on the ground and the whirring sound of the drivetrain. Most cars know have very silky smooth engines that are virtually silent at low rpms.

      So the solution is to have louder cars. Now wait just a minute, multiple that in a city with hundreds of cars. You want a noisier city were it's more difficult to differentiate sounds. I'm all for safety for the blind and everyone but this is BS.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Not to be insensitive to the plights of visually impaired people but this is absurd.
      This is an expensive and ridiculously premature exercise.
      The cars are not completely silent.
      Their MUCH quieter operation is also a big bonus in my book.
      Noise pollution sucks.

      - mike
        • 6 Years Ago
        I can see it now... People getting ticketed for not being within the confines of a noise level. Getting ticketed for having a too quiet of a car right along with the boy racer with the fart can. Brilliant.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I can imagine it now . . .

      Cars outfitted with bullhorns blaring "WARNING! VEHICLE APPROACHING" every 5 seconds they're moving. All doppler effect on the highway.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Nah, too polite. What it should say instead is, "I'M SAVING THE ENVIRONMENT, LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME!"

        • 6 Years Ago
        You're both wrong, all they need to do is give blind people an audible smug emission detector.
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