Green’ Cars Called Threat to Blind Pedestrians

Hybrid vehicles are too quiet, says city man

Brantford Expositor, Nov. 26, 2008

Setting out from their Buchanan Crescent townhouse for a morning jaunt, Bob
Brown and his guide dog, Boone, set a good pace.

It’s more like a power walk than a stroll and they work as a team, moving
easily around their neighbourhood.

“Brantford’s pretty good, pretty accessible,” the 33-year-old visually
impaired man said. “We can get up to Williams for coffee if we want and
I can go up to the (Lynden Park) Mall for groceries and back no problem.

“Sometimes I use public transit or the heel-toe express. It depends on
the weather.”

He enjoys his independence and mobility. But he worries they will be
threatened by the growing popularity of hybrid vehicles, which run on
gasoline and a rechargeable battery. In battery mode, they are quiet.

Hybrids may be good for the environment but they are not so good for the
blind and visually impaired, said Brown.

“When I’m walking on a sidewalk, I depend on my guide dog and my ability
to hear traffic,” he said.

“If I can’t hear a car coming, if it’s backing out of a driveway I won’t
hear it until it’s too late.

“I already know what it’s like to get hit by a car and I don’t want to
ever have that feeling again.”

He can’t go into details about his ac- accident, which happened almost two
years ago. But the experience of being hurt and losing his guide dog is
enough to compel him to sound the alarm over hybrid vehicles.

He wants the automakers to come up with a way of making the vehicles loud
enough so they can be heard by all pedestrians. And if the car companies
won’t do it voluntarily, Brown said he thinks the government should force
this issue through legislation.

“There is some work going on in the United States on this and I think
a couple of states are in the process of trying to come up with some
regulations, some standards.

“I don’t know if there is much happening here in Canada. I think they’re
taking a kind of a wait-and-see approach.”

Brown has been visually impaired since he was about seven. His impairment
was caused by retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disorder of the retina
that, over time, causes severe vision loss.

Brown isn’t the only one raising concerns about hybrid vehicles.

John Rae, the first vice-president of the Alliance for Equality of Blind
Canadians, called hybrid vehicles a ‘major’ safety concern for all
pedestrians, not just blind and visually impaired people.

Joggers and walkers wearing headphones are all vulnerable because of the
quietness of hybrid vehicles.

“We recognize the importance of saving the environment,” Rae said.
“But we don’t see this as an either-or issue.

“We think vehicles can be good for the environment as well as safe.”

He’s calling on the various levels of government to force the auto industry
to come up with a way of making the vehicles safe enough for pedestrians.

Now, with the auto industry looking for taxpayer bailouts to keep it afloat,
is the perfect time for the government to get car makers to address the

“We’d like them (the automakers) to do it voluntarily but if they don’t
we think the government should step in and force them,” Rae said. “So
far we haven’t received much of a response from the auto industry.”

Toyota is one of the industry leaders in developing hybrid vehicles and is
the manufacturer of the Toyota Prius, one of the most popular and
recognizable of hybrid vehicles.

Rae thinks Toyota is a company that could set the standard for other
companies to follow.

Nicole Grant, of Toyota Canada’s public relations office, said Toyota is
always looking for ways to improve public safety, as well as improvements to
sustainable mobility.

Toyota seeks to maintain a balance between those concerns as well as other
societal issues such as noise pollution and environmental concerns.

“We’re always working towards that balance and public safety is at the
top of our list of concerns,” she said.

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