Hybrid Cars Not Noisy Enough, Group Says 

Pose risk to pedestrians, the blind Calls for addition of audible devices to help people detect presence of vehicles 

By MIKE KING, The Gazette June 2, 2010 3:02 AM   

The announcement that a new brand of electric car will soon be hitting the province coincides with Quebec Week for the Disabled and concerns over safety risks the quiet vehicles could pose to the blind.

“We’re not against hybrid cars, we just want to be able to hear them,” Rene Binet, general manager of the Regroupement des personnes handicapees visuelles, said yesterday.

The problem is the low level of noise produced by a hybrid vehicle and the fact that a person with a visual disability uses auditory information to choose
the appropriate time to cross a street.

Group members participating in a test in Quebec City yesterday found that the reduction of sound cues from a hybrid made it difficult to determine whether there was a vehicle approaching them.

“Participants were in agreement that the solution is to equip cars with an audible device,” Binet said.

“We ask Industry Canada, the Quebec Ministry of Transportation, vehicle manufacturers and other associations of visually impaired people to develop a regulation requiring an audible warning to pedestrians and the blind to help detect the arrival of a hybrid or electric car.”

Raynald Marchand, general manager of the Canada Safety Council, said from Ottawa headquarters there still aren’t enough hybrid vehicles in circulation here to adequately determine any dangers.

But he pointed to a recent U.S. National Highway Safety Administration study that relied on police reports of accidents in a dozen states to compute proportions of incidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists with Honda and Toyota hybrids vs. similar cars from the same manufacturers without hybrid engines.

The numbers of pedestrian and bicyclist accidents with hybrid vehicles was 40 per cent higher than with other cars.

Government tests were conducted in Tokyo last August using four types of vehicles -a conventional car, a hybrid that uses only an electric motor at low
speeds, a hybrid whose gasoline engine turns over even at low speeds and an electric vehicle.

Of the 40 participants, including 15 with impaired vision, none were aware of the first type of hybrid vehicle or the electric car passing by at 10 k/hr
or less while most of them detected the vehicles at 25 k/hr regardless of the type of car because of the noise of the tires on the road.

The Japanese government is expected to require auto-makers to add a noise-making device to their vehicles.

The U.S. Congress is also considering a measure requiring vehicles to emit nonvisual warnings to pedestrians.

mking@thegazette.canwest.com

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