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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Blindness Watchdog Group Claims Hybrid Cars Are Dangerous to Pedestrians

National Federation for the Blind Tests Hybrid Cars, Says They Are Dangerously Quiet

After conducting tests with blind people, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) said that hybrid cars present a risk to the blind, children, the elderly, cyclists, and preoccupied pedestrians.

"We had the car drive by in different situations, to see whether or not people could hear it and use the sound of the car to safely cross the street, and they could not. The car was just silent," NFB spokesman John Pare said.

Pare said NFB does not want to add to noise pollution, but hybrid cars should not be less noisy than other cars.

Over 25 people took part in tests on a side street and in an alleyway with a Toyota Prius and a Honda Civic.

"We all stood on the side of the street and the idea was to raise your hand as you heard the car approach," said NFB member Chris Danielsen.

"We generally couldn't sense that it was there right in front of us," he continued, "which of course, if we had been standing in the road, would have been running right over us. By the time anybody detected it, if we had actually been standing in the road, it would have taken out three or four people."

Barbara Pries, a member of NFB's pedestrian security committee, said some blind people have reported having near accidents.

"It's just a matter of time before people are going to get injured and killed," she said.

According to government statistics, nearly 4,900 pedestrians were killed in road accidents in the United Stats in 2005.

The NFB's demand that Toyota, Honda and Ford add a noise or signal to their hybrids fell on deaf ears.

Toyota representatives said they are looking into improving pedestrian safety, but there are no current plans to change its hybrid vehicles.

"We are aware of this issue and studying a way to improve pedestrian safety," said Toyota spokeswoman Martha Voss. "It's important that the solution doesn't add to noise pollution but is good for pedestrians."

But a different Toyota spokesman, Xavier Dominici, took a less sympathetic approach, saying the corporate trend was toward quieter cars and that the public should start accepting it.

"There is a lot of ambient noise and the trends toward quiet powertrains in all vehicles has raised the need for additional caution to be exercised by pedestrians and drivers as well," he said.

"Part of it is also acclimating your ear to that noise. Frankly the sound of an automobile is changing as more quiet powertrains and hybrid vehicles come to dominate the market," he said.

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