Hybrid Cars May Pose a Personal Injury Threat for the Blind

With the ongoing spike in gasoline prices, more people are buying hybrid cars. More than 350,000 hybrid cars were sold in the United States last year. Hybrid cars not only cut down on monthly expenses, but they also cut down on carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere and they cut down on noise pollution too. Most hybrid cars run solely on battery power at low speeds making the vehicles much quieter. Therein lays the safety hazard, at least for the visually impaired. Hybrid cars make about as much noise as an electric golf cart when running on battery power. In the United States, there are an estimated 1.3 millions persons who are legally blind. The visually impaired use car sounds to determine how close a car is and whether it is safe to cross a street. Both advocates for the visually impaired and hybrid advocates disagree on the level of threat hybrids may pose.

Some hybrid advocates do not believe the quiet cars pose a personal injury hazard. They point to the fact that there have been no reports of death or serious injury from pedestrian accidents involving hybrid cars. Hybrid advocates also argue that hybrid owners are more aware of their surroundings; therefore, they are less likely to cause a car accident.

Still, it is difficult to contradict the fact that the blind use auditory cues to get around. Given the fact that some hybrids have been noted to be quieter than a vacuum cleaner, it is easy to see a potential hazard. Moreover, some bicyclists and the elderly use sounds to determine the proximity of a vehicle, so the potential threat of personal injury may be more widespread.

There are some independent companies that are creating post sale devices that produce sound for moving hybrid cars. Enhanced Vehicle Acoustics, out of Santa Clara California, has developed an alert for Toyota hybrids that links to the car’s computer system. The device makes a sound when the car is turning. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also looking into ways to eliminate the possible personal injury threat from hybrids. Also, Congress has discussed legislation that would implement safety standards for hybrid cars.

In the meantime, some advocates for the blind are doing their part to protect the safety of the visually impaired community. Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc. is taking into account hybrid vehicles when training their guide dogs. The company is using electric golf carts to simulate the low sounds emitted by hybrid cars.


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