Hybrid cars are popular with the high price of crude oil and the cost of gas at the pumps. While these cars are good for the consumer and for the environment, they pose a very serious threat of injury to the blind and visually impaired.
Hybrid cars operate nearly silent when running on their electric fuel cells making them practically silent. Visually impaired and blind people have traditionally relied on their hearing and on the noise in their environment to provide cues as to what was happening about them. Melanie Brunson of the American Council of the Blind says “Traditionally, people who are blind or visually impaired learn to rely on their hearing and tactile cues to provide them with information about their environment, which they can then use to navigate safely across streets and through other vehicular ways such as parking lots. In doing so, the sound of traffic is their primary focus.”
The American Council of the Blind is pushing the automobile industry and government officials to develop ways to reduce this danger.
To add to this threat, Dr. Karen Gourgey, a member of the American Council of the Blind’s environmental access committe, she has said that this danger is not limited to the blind or visually impaired. “Recent studies have shown that even people who are fully sighted use hearing as well as vision to make street crossing decisions, though they may not realize it. And we haven’t even mentioned children and older people.”
The U.S. Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration held its first hearings on this issue in early August.