U.S. Rep. Edolphus “Ed” Towns (D-NY) authored a provision to protect the blind and other pedestrians from injury or death as a result of silent vehicle technology, which was signed into law yesterday, as part of the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009. Towns’ provision is based on the “Pedestrian Safety Act” (H.R. 734) and requires the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 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.
“When we consider the fuel efficiencies of hybrid vehicles, we must also consider the safety of all pedestrians – blind, wheel chair bound, and the elderly,” said Rep. Towns.
Hybrids and electric vehicles are becoming increasingly popular around the world. The registration of hybrid cars, which are marketed for having a particularly silent ride, rose 38% in 2007 with the New York metro market being the third fastest growing market at 20,692 new registrations in 2007.
Blind pedestrians rely on their hearing to assess the speed and direction of traffic. Sighted pedestrians, including bicyclists, the elderly, wheel-chair-bound, runners, and small children, also use engine sounds to navigate traffic. New vehicles that employ hybrid or electric engine technology can be silent, rendering them extremely dangerous.
Towns’ provision directs the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to explore the emerging issue of blind pedestrian safety related to “quiet” vehicles while also addressing concerns raised by the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind that new alternative-fuel engines will be inaudible at low speeds and impossible for the blind to detect.
Towns concluded, “I am happy that, at the conclusion of this study, we will have an understanding of appropriate, minimum sound levels for hybrids to ensure the safety of all pedestrians.”