Sales of hybrid cars such as Toyota Prius, Honda Insight and Mitsubishi i-MiEV are booming in Japan because of several government incentives and tax rebates to encourage people to buy green cars. Hybrid cars are super quiet and that’s an appealing feature for many. But concerns have been raised by blind people that such silent cars could prove dangerous to them. And, these safety issues would lead to a next generation of noisy hybrids from Japanese car makers.
The government of Japan has recently set up a panel with organizations for the blind, Japanese car manufacturers, and consumer groups to arrive at a solution, whereby the hybrid cars would not endanger the safety of blind pedestrians. The joint panel was set up as an answer to growing worries voiced by the blind. In an informal survey of 52 blind persons conducted by the panel, it was found that more than 50% of the respondents said they were scared of hybrid vehicles as these vehicles were so quiet, though none of them reported being in an accident. The Japan Federation of the Blind has requested the government to take steps and instruct Japanese hybrid car makers to make the cars safer for the blind.
Hybrid vehicles are relatively quiet. They do not emit any sounds pedestrians and bicyclists are used to hearing as a vehicle approaches them at an intersection or on the street. So, there is a growing demand for sounds that could be added to these quiet vehicles to make them easier to detect. If this is the case with normal people, visually impaired people are definitely at a higher risk of getting involved in an accident with a hybrid vehicle.
The panel officials suggested that the hybrid vehicles could emit what sounds like musical sounds like a cell-phone ring-tone or engine noise to warn the blind pedestrians. If needed, a legal change would be made to force the car makers to equip their vehicles with such special features.
Toyota hybrid cars which would go on sale in 2010 may have such measures, possibly making noise at slow speeds and sensing nearby pedestrians with radar. Such noisier hybrids would be more appropriate for crowded streets in Japan than in the United States and other countries where cases of pedestrians getting hit by a car are less frequent.