Blind Pedestrians Say Quiet Hybrids Pose Safety Threat

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by RBMaraman, Oct 3, 2007.

  1. RBMaraman macrumors 65816

    RBMaraman

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    #1
    From The Wall Street Journal:

    Blind Pedestrians
    Say Quiet Hybrids
    Pose Safety Threat

    By RAYMUND FLANDEZ
    February 13, 2007

    For blind people, crossing the street is becoming even more of a challenge.

    Michael Osborn, a blind marketing consultant from Laguna Beach, Calif., and his guide dog, Hastings, were in the middle of an intersection one morning last April when the yellow Lab stopped short. Mr. Osborn took the cue and halted -- just in time to feel the breeze from a car passing right in front of them.

    "Half an inch and it would have hit us ... it wasn't making any noise," says Mr. Osborn, 50, who has been blind for 12 years. Witnesses say the car was a Toyota Prius, a hybrid vehicle.

    Hybrids deliver better mileage and less pollution than traditional cars by switching between a gasoline engine and an electric motor. But when operating on the electric battery, especially when idling at a stop or running at low speeds, the engine in a hybrid is almost silent. A hybrid vehicle is generally quieter than a vacuum cleaner.

    "I'm an environmentalist, and I'm all for quiet cars," says Mr. Osborn. "But it poses a particular problem for somebody who has no vision."

    Blind pedestrians using a guide dog or cane are largely dependent on the sounds of traffic to cross streets safely. For a blind person, "it's very important to be able to gather auditory and tactile cues from the environment," says Sumara Shakeel, of Toms River, N.J., who is a rehabilitation teacher for the New Jersey Commission for the Blind.

    Hybrid cars became commercially available to mainstream consumers in 2000 and are gaining in popularity. Nationwide, registrations for new hybrids more than doubled to 199,148 in 2005 from 83,153 in 2004, according to R.L. Polk & Co., an automotive research firm. At least a dozen states and several cities are encouraging drivers to buy fuel-efficient hybrids by offering tax breaks and other incentives, and the vehicles are being added to municipal fleets. Still, the total 392,000 hybrids on the road reflect just over 1% of all new vehicle registrations in the U.S.

    The National Federation of the Blind, an advocacy group, says all hybrid vehicles should emit a sound while turned on and is calling on the auto industry to make changes. The group says the sound should be loud enough to be heard over the din of other ambient noise.

    Members of the NFB's Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety have discussed sound cues that hybrids could use to alert pedestrians, including a device built into the axle that could make a sound as the wheels rotate, or a sensor that blind travelers could carry that would indicate when a hybrid is in the vicinity. The committee has yet to have a formal meeting with auto industry representatives.

    Quiet cars pose a problem for not only those with limited vision, says the NFB's Debbie Stein, but also for sighted pedestrians, cyclists and the elderly who rely on sound to gauge the position and speed of cars.

    Last summer at the Nation Federation of the Blind convention in Dallas, a crowd of blind people listened for a Toyota Prius hybrid. Members of the group were asked to raise their hands as soon as they heard the vehicle approaching.
    While there are no national data on pedestrian injuries or deaths related to low-noise cars, the NFB argues that a link will be more discernible as quiet vehicles become more common. Police reports often don't record what kind of automobile caused a pedestrian-vehicle collision, and the insurance industry says it doesn't have those figures. In 2005, 4,881 pedestrians were killed nationwide, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an increase of about 2% since 2000.

    "We want to get ahead of this and not have to wait until five blind people end up seriously hurt or dead," says Gary Wunder, who is on the NFB's Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety.

    Some businesses are taking action. Several guide dog schools are planning to use hybrid vehicles when training animals to acclimate them. Guide Dogs for the Blind Inc., with campuses in Oregon and California, uses electric golf carts to simulate the quiet cars.

    So far, advocacy groups' pleas for louder hybrids have failed to generate much noise in automotive circles. A spokesman for the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers, an industry group, says he wasn't aware of the issue. "We're interested in hearing about the concerns of the blind community, and we'll work with them to ensure that they're addressed," says alliance spokesman Charles Territo.

    Sev MacPete, founder of the Toyota Prius Club of San Diego, dismisses the idea that hybrids pose a safety threat. He says blind pedestrians are easy to spot because they usually have a special white cane with red tip. "And if you could say anything about hybrid drivers, they are more aware of their surroundings than other drivers," Mr. MacPete says.

    Toyota spokesman Bill Kwong says he wasn't aware of the issue and believes that the responsibility lies with drivers and pedestrians to watch out for each other. Mr. Kwong adds, "One of the benefits of the vehicles is that they don't contribute to traffic noise."

    http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB117133115592406662-4gKiXEZVH0RXATvUvpkVpLUsbx8_20080213.html
     
  2. Counterfit macrumors G3

    Counterfit

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    #2
    When I used to ride my bike more often, I would hate the quiet cars, hybrid or not, simply because I couldn't hear them coming up behind me, and had them pass only a few inches away. I'm all for a Jetsons-like sound. :D
     
  3. redAPPLE macrumors 68030

    redAPPLE

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    #3
    you can't win 'em all, can you?

    a coin, like life, has always a flip side...
     
  4. LethalWolfe macrumors G3

    LethalWolfe

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    Los Angeles
    #4
    How exactly is a blind person supposed to "watch out" for a car they can't hear? Isn't that kinda the crux of the issue?


    Lethal
     
  5. teflon macrumors 6502a

    teflon

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    May 28, 2007
    #5
    The hybrid cars are quiet, but not invisible. I don't see why the guide dogs won't see them or even need special training. Don't they rely on their sight rather than hearing? Plus if a blind person's guide dog can see the cars, why would it matter if the person can't hear? They can just follow their dogs.
     
  6. synth3tik macrumors 68040

    synth3tik

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    #6
    I see a 1 in 20 ratio of people with guide dogs. Most have a walking stick.
     
  7. RedTomato macrumors 68040

    RedTomato

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    Location:
    .. London ..
    #7
    So how do blind people detect bicycles on the road?

    I understand in most of the USA there aren't many cycles on the road, but there ARE quite a few. Especially in New York.

    Outside the USA, in most of the world, there's always lots of cycles, and most governments are trying to encourage more cycling, as cheap and environomentally safe.

    EDIT: on second thoughts, I suppose it's a question of speed. Cycles can avoid someone more easily than a car can. We need a blind MR member to give us the lowdown.

    To the guy who said he didnt hear a car behind him, I'm deaf and I've been cycling for about 15 years, in London, Paris, New York, various countries. It hasn't been a problem, I just ride safely and check behind me before doing anything.
     
  8. teflon macrumors 6502a

    teflon

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    May 28, 2007
    #8
    Good point, but doesn't most crossing lights have sound now? So if they cross the street when the sound starts, they'll probably be safe. I guess it's just not very ideal for jaywalkers :p.

    I don't mean to sound rude, but I don't think a blind person can read internet forums.
     
  9. Nermal Moderator

    Nermal

    Staff Member

    Joined:
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    New Zealand
    #9
    They can't *read* them but that doesn't stop them from participating. See that VoiceOver thingy in your system prefs? :)
     
  10. LethalWolfe macrumors G3

    LethalWolfe

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    Los Angeles
    #10
    I haven't noticed very many "audio" cross walks here in LA (although many of the cross walks are getting count downs added to them). You also have to take into consideration, what if the driver isn't paying attention? What if you are at a cross walk that doesn't have audio (such as a 4-way stop sign or a crossing that's between intersections)? What if you are walking down the sidewalk and crossing in front of an alley way, drive way, parking lot entrance, etc.,.?


    There are text-to-speech programs for people who can't see or can't see well enough to to read a computer screen.


    Lethal
     
  11. oblomow macrumors 68020

    oblomow

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    #11
    I can imagine how they ( the blind people ) must be feeling. When in highschool I worked in a warehouse during my vacation. They used two types
    of forklifts. One running on gas (LPG) and one electric. The electric ones were
    a killer. Everytime you walked backwards from the small picking lanes to the main lanes you took the risk of being hit by a fast driving forklift.
    The electric ones were completely silent. And of course when the driver finally noticed someone crossing his(!) lane, it was too late to break.

    I really preferred the gas forklifts, even indoors.


    Years later I worked at a university that was connected to a hospital by underground tunnels. Great to have a dry and warm walk to the hospital restaurant. Unfortunately the tunnels were also used to move hospital beds using electric carts. (fortunately the hospital was nearby....)
     
  12. RedTomato macrumors 68040

    RedTomato

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    #12
    Not all blind people use them. You can also get braille screen readers. It's a desktop device about the size of a keyboard. You put your hands on it, and braille rods pop up from underneath, presenting the screen text to you in braille. Amazing to see in action.

    There are also blind webmasters - Damon Rose runs the BBC Ouch website, which is one of the biggest disability media websites out there, and he's blind. I used to work for him at the BBC. Nice guy.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/ouch/writers/damonrose/
     
  13. notjustjay macrumors 603

    notjustjay

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    Canada, eh?
    #13
    I went to a university with a network of underground tunnels. University building staff had electric golf carts too. They had horns and flashing lights, but they weren't totally invisible, you could hear whirring and road contact noises. The carts (and their maniacal drivers) have become so much a part of the school lore that someone even wrote a "Grand Theft Auto" style game in which you drive a cart through the tunnel network.

    The obvious solution is to equip hybrid vehicles with bicycle bells. "Bring-bring, bring-bring!"
     
  14. atszyman macrumors 68020

    atszyman

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    #14
    No, no, the answer is obviously a deck of baseball cards (playing cards will do in a pinch) and some clothespins...
     
  15. oblomow macrumors 68020

    oblomow

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    #15
    Oh! that brings back memories. Or what about a shoe polish tin and clothespins? even more noise. (or was this only done in the NL.?)
     
  16. pooky macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Jun 2, 2003
    #16
    Does this strike anyone else as a totally bs statement? How does driving a hybrid make you more aware? It might make you more smug... smug enough to join a Prius club, I suppose...
     
  17. PlaceofDis macrumors Core

    Joined:
    Jan 6, 2004
    #17
    perhaps its not the prius and other hybrids that are the problems. but the rest of the cars? :eek:

    they're the ones adding to the noise pollution along with everything else they emit. so if they get quieter the hybrids wouldn't be so much of a problem.

    yet people still remove their muffler and make it bigger so its louder. i want that to be illegal. painful sound.
     
  18. Sun Baked macrumors G5

    Sun Baked

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    May 19, 2002
    #18
    People complain about the sound of vehicle traffic, even going as far as using rubberized asphalt on city streets.

    And people want to make the quiet vehicles noisier.

    The vehicles aren't quiet, just quieter than the rest of the noisy vehicles on the street.
     
  19. ChrisA macrumors G4

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    Jan 5, 2006
    Location:
    Redondo Beach, California
    #19
    Here is a beter idea

    Rather then making a sound why not require the car to carry a small radio transmitter. These can be really cheap. Not more expensive than a hand held controller for a wireless toy car. Then those who want to hear the sound of passing cars can tune an AM radio to the correct channel and hear the car.

    A more complex system could have the car transmit a noise that that varies with the speed or even the direction (nort, south, east...) of travel.

    Maybe even eaasier--- we take up a collection and buy the blind guy a kind of radar motion detector gadget.
     
  20. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2006
    Location:
    Redondo Beach, California
    #20
    When you are riding inside a quite car you can hear things outside better. It really does make a difference.
     
  21. pooky macrumors 6502

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    #21
    I can agree with that, although the tone of the quote made it sound very pompus (something along the lines of "hybrid drivers are so much more intellectually and morally superior, they must be more aware."). I somehow doubt that even the relative silence that comes from driving a hybrid would be enough to make me more aware of a blind person crossing the street. The guy in the article was clearly talking about seeing the person. I still think he was being a pompous ass.

    Don't get me wrong, I love hybrids. It's just smug, pompous people that annoy me.
     
  22. Don't panic macrumors 603

    Don't panic

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    #22
    i think part of the problem is that blind people are not used to cars being silent.
    they are quite quieter, but not "quiet" (;)).
    once there are more around, it will be easier for them to recognize the noise they make.

    i don't think that to make them forcibly noisy is the way to go, though.
    anyone knows if they are a problem at night in general?
     
  23. RevToTheRedline macrumors 6502a

    RevToTheRedline

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    #23
    I almost got hit by a Prius in a parking lot. Couldn't hear anything.
     
  24. ErikCLDR macrumors 68000

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    #24
    Well in my opinion hybrids are a waste of money and if you buy one thats your decision but you better put a lot of miles on your car to actually get a decrease in fuel costs. Personally I would just buy a diesel, get better gas mileage, and call it a day.

    Regardless of my opinion I do think its bad that they can't hear the cars coming and the radio transmitter sounds like a good idea. Perhaps they could apply that to even more things like open stairways and construction zones on city streets.

    That said if I was blind I would not feel very comfortable walking around NYC.
     
  25. william sire macrumors regular

    william sire

    #25
    Bound to happen. Someone will claim some kind of "safety hazard" with the iPhone and the touch iPod before too long.
     

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