In the recent American International Automobile Dealers Association newsletter, they pointed out the threats posed by hybrid cars to blind people. The report stated that crossing the street has become more challenging for those who are visually impaired. This is due to the fact that hybrid electric cars like the Toyota Prius switch to its electric motor during low-speed driving or idling. This feature has endeared the car to some of its users because not only it reduces noise pollution but also reduces the car’s fuel consumption. These cars are efficient on city driving where frequent accelerating and decelerating are required, and the city streets are where most blind persons roam.

In consonance with this, the Wall Street Journal reported that some blind people already had close calls with hybrid vehicles. It is common knowledge that visually handicapped persons rely on their sense of hearing to navigate busy streets. And since hybrid cars produce almost no sound at all, just as silent as an EBC brake rotor when engaged, on low speed driving, blind people will not know if there is a car within the vicinity. This heightened the risk faced by blind people in traversing a city’s walkways. The quietness that hybrid cars may be a strong selling point for the car manufacturer but it poses a constant threat to blind people and this fact should not be ignored.

In response to the increased risk that blind people are now facing with the growing number of hybrid vehicles on our streets, the National Federation of the Blind has been lobbying for car manufacturers to take action with regard to the threat posed by hybrid cars. The advocacy group stressed that those quiet hybrid vehicles not only pose a threat to those people who are blind but for other sighted pedestrians. Cyclists and elderly persons also rely on a car’s sound to determine the position and speed of a vehicle. They also pointed out that while there are still no fatalities or injuries caused by the relative quietness of a hybrid car, the increasing popularity of hybrid cars may soon have a negative impact on the safety of pedestrians.

The National Federation of the Blind proposes to car makers that hybrid cars should at least emit a sound audible to pedestrians who rely on car sounds in navigating a city’s thoroughfare. The Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety under the NFB suggested that a device may be integrated to a hybrid car’s axle which will produce an audible sound as the wheels of a car rotate. They also recommended that a sensor be developed that will warn a blind person if a hybrid car is in the area. These suggestions though are still to be relayed formally to car manufacturers since a meeting between the NFB and representatives of the automotive industry has yet to take place.

The call for action of the NFB has yet to be addressed by the automotive industry. In connection with this, the spokesman for the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers, Charles Territo said that they are willing to look into the problem. “We’re interested in hearing about the concerns of the blind community, and we’ll work with them to ensure that they’re addressed”, Territo said. Meanwhile, Bill Kwong, spokesman for Toyota also said that he was not aware of the problem and further said that drivers and pedestrians share the responsibility of watching out for each other. But the NFB pointed out that the Toyota spokesman did overlook the fact that blind pedestrians cannot watch out for hybrid vehicles since they are, after all, blind.

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