AER O&M Division newsletter - June 2011
Quiet Cars and the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act:
By Dona Sauerburger, COMS
For many years, our profession and people who are blind have been very concerned about "quiet cars" (hybrids and electric vehicles) and their effect on the safe travel of blind people. Our O&M Division members passed 3 resolutions, the most recent of which urged that research be done to
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Last January, President Obama signed a bill which was intended to address this issue by directing the Secretary of Transportation to study the minimum level of sound that is necessary to be emitted from vehicles, or some other method, to alert blind and other pedestrians of the presence of operating motor vehicles while traveling (the bill can be found at govtrack ).
- evaluate the effect of quiet vehicles on pedestrian safety;
- determine techniques for providing information that is equivalent to the acoustic cues that are currently provided by vehicle engines, which will enable blind pedestrians to cross streets;
- evaluate the broader issues of the effect on the environmental access to street crossings and the wayfinding of blind pedestrians that are likely to occur if there are large numbers of quiet vehicles;
- develop techniques and technologies to address whatever problems are found.
The bill does not require any research to determine what problems the quiet cars actually cause for blind travelers. It seems to conclude that whatever these problems may be, they will be solved by establishing a minimum level of sound for hybrid/electric vehicles.
This raises grave concerns which I hope will be studied and addressed as the bill is implemented.
If the hybrids and electric cars make noise when idling or moving slowly at traffic signals and parking lots, it may increase the "Residual Noise Level" for the entire community. The Residual Noise Level is the sound level of "quiet," which normally increases during the day, when people are active throughout the community (see http://www.sauerburger.org/dona/crosscredit16).
If the Residual Noise Level is increased for the entire community, blind people will be less able to discern when it is clear to cross streets that have no traffic control, even though they are several blocks away from the parking lot and traffic signals which are the source of the noise. I believe that it was the Increase in Residual Noise Level that made Gordon Parks unable to hear the truck that killed him last fall (see http://www.sauerburger.org/dona/crosscredit20.html#analysis).
If the unintended consequence of making hybrids and electric cars noisier is that the Residual Noise Level for the community increases, it will put blind people at greater risk of death and injury than theywere before the bill was implemented, and it will restrict safe access of blind travelers. The effort to ensure that blind people can avoid being hit by a slow-moving car in a parking lot or at a traffic signal could mean that they will be at greater risk when crossing streets in their community.
Fortunately, the bill requires the Secretary to consult with the Environmental Protection Agency to consider this bill's effect on noise. I hope that they will study this very carefully, find out how much it could increase the Residual Noise Level in our communities, and ensure that whatever is done with quiet cars will not have the unintended consequence of increasing the risk and the number of deaths and injuries of blind travelers.