BALTIMORE -- Gas-electric hybrid vehicles, the status symbol for the environmentally conscientious, are coming under attack from a constituency that doesn't drive: the blind.In some ways, the idea of quieter vehicles is appealing. Anyone living near a busy street would attest to that. Hell I live a mile away from it, but on most days I can hear the din of traffic on Veterans Parkway from my back yard. And driving a quieter car would be nice.
Because hybrids make virtually no noise at slower speeds when they run solely on electric power, blind people say they pose a hazard to those who rely on their ears to determine whether it's safe to cross the street or walk through a parking lot.
"I'm used to being able to get sound cues from my environment and negotiate accordingly. I hadn't imagined there was anything I really wouldn't be able to hear," said Deborah Kent Stein, chairwoman of the National Federation of the Blind's Committee on Automotive and Pedestrian Safety. "We did a test, and I discovered, to my great dismay, that I couldn't hear it."
However, anyone not paying attention could suffer the consequences of no audio cues that a car is coming. That would probably include cyclists to some extent too.
This is certainly not an insurmountable problem. Adding some sort of warning noise to a vehicle should be easy. And it wouldn’t have to be loud. Maybe they could be unique and of the car owner’s choice, like ring tones on cell phones. Or better yet, how ‘bout we all get that “Hello” recording the ice cram trucks in town use.