Today’s tip is a safety tip cautioning readers to be aware of the “dangers” of hybrid and electric vehicles to pedestrians. Last week, my children and I were almost hit by a Prius in a health food store parking lot. I can imagine the headline: “Environmentalist run over by a hybrid vehicle.” Ironic, eh?
My near-encounter with the Prius occurred because the car was running on its electric motor, thus making the car virtually silent. As the Prius backed out of its parking space, I was caught by surprise and realized how much I rely on my ears to warn me of traffic. We tell children to “look both ways and listen” for cars when crossing streets, but as our fleet moves toward hybrid vehicles (and hopefully electric ones, too), we will need to adjust which senses we rely on to keep us safe in parking lots and crossing roads.
I am not the only one to be startled by a low noise car. In particular, hybrid vehicles running on their electric motors especially affect blind people, who rely on their sense of hearing in traffic. According to the Wall Street Journal,
“Michael Osborn, a blind marketing consultant from Laguna Beach, Calif., and his guide dog, Hastings, were in the middle of an intersection one morning last April when the yellow Lab stopped short. Mr. Osborn took the cue and halted — just in time to feel the breeze from a car passing right in front of them. ‘Half an inch and it would have hit us … it wasn’t making any noise,’ says Mr. Osborn, 50, who has been blind for 12 years. Witnesses say the car was a Toyota Prius, a hybrid vehicle.”
The National Federation of the Blind is advocating hybrid and electric vehicles emit a sound when turned on, and many guide dog schools are now including hybrid vehicles in their training course. The proposed sound device would alert a sensor carried by the vision impaired to alert them of a hybrid in the vicinity. In response to the concern, Denise Morrissey, a spokeswoman for Toyota Motor Sales USA stated, “The [industry] trend is toward quiet powertrains in all sorts of vehicles. That trend has raised the need for other drivers and pedestrians to increase caution and to be more aware of the surroundings.”
I don’t know what the solution is, and I certainly like less noise pollution. The sound of an electric powered car is beautiful in its quietude, and I can only imagine how our city streets would sound if the electric vehicle had not been “killed.” As pedestrians, we must be more aware and mindful of our surroundings as more and more hybrid vehicles are on the road. For drivers of hybrid or electric vehicles, pay special attention around pedestrians, especially the blind, who may not be aware of your presence. As our streets become quieter and our awareness grows, perhaps we will once again be able to hear the birds’ songs in the bustling city.