Monday, June 9, 2008

When Quiet is Too Quiet

Something to Bark About
by Joanne Ritter

Okay, fellow bloggers – prepare yourselves for a serious post. It may be time to make a little noise.

At Guide Dogs for the Blind, we are very much in favor of efforts to protect our environment – we’re all about improving the quality of life. And certainly, hybrid cars improve our quality of life, right? Well, maybe.

Of course we are all in favor of quieter engines – but what if a car was silent AND invisible. What if it crept up on you so stealthily that you weren’t aware of it even though you were right next to it? You’d probably fear for your life!

Well folks, that’s the actual experience of people who are blind when they’re around hybrid cars, especially when they’re idling at stop lights, backing out of driveways or in parking lots. And they’re not alone – sight-dependent pedestrians, cyclists, children and others are just as vulnerable.

Bill Kwong, a spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales USA, has been quoted as saying “Not only does [the Prius] not pollute the air, it doesn't create noise pollution." I’m sure that after awhile a squished pedestrian DOES stop making so much noise, but isn’t that a high price to pay? All joking aside, what’s a pedestrian to do? We know that Kwong and others ARE beginning to take this seriously, and we commend them for it. The National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind have pushed for legislation to address the issue. Too bad it requires legislation for common-sense action to be taken.

Guide Dogs for the Blind is doing its part as well – we’ve actually purchased some hybrids to use in our training. That may help some, but frankly, a dog is not going to be much better than a person with sight at knowing when a silent car is approaching. And furthermore, not everyone who is blind has a guide dog.

Photo of a Guide Dog instructor in a blindfold training a black Labrador Retriever with a hybrid car

For those of you who own hybrids – they’re great cars – some of us own them, too. We drive them with heightened awareness, and we encourage you to do the same, if you’re not already. Compassionate people who care about our environment share our concern for the safety of all living beings.

The bill before Congress will ask the Transportation Department to conduct a two-year study before issuing safety standards. Automakers would then have two additional years to comply. Clarence Ditlow, president of the Center for Auto Safety has been quoted as saying he didn’t think a two-year study was necessary. What do you think?

Further reading on this topic:
Stanford pair makes electric car noisier -- to help the blind

Oregon Guide Dog Trained to Detect the Silent Danger of Hybrid Cars

Unobtrusive Hybrid Car ‘Noise’ Being Developed

Are Hybrids Too Quiet?

Plan Would Make Hybrids Noisier to Protect the Blind

Are hybrid cars too quiet? U.S. bill calls for study into potential dangers

Blind Pedestrians May Not Hear Hybrid Cars

Blind Pedestrians Protest Hybrid Cars

Blind Pedestestrians Say Quiet Hybrids Pose Safety Threat

Blind Pedestrians At Risk from Hybrid Cars?


  1. GDB,
    My partner, Richard, shared this story with me. Thanks for sharing this concern! I have not had a run in with a quiet car yet. I have heard a few while riding in the back seat of our car around town.

    I really have to stay on my "paws" and keep my floppy ears open! I must be alert to these new types of vehicles! But time will tell on that.

    I started sharing some of my experiences as a guide dog. I know that Richard is counting on me to be aware of this. Thanks for studying the problem and determining new training techniques to assist in this area.

    Check out my blog sometime!

    Big licks and belly rubs, Zane!

  2. I think it's awesome that GDB has hybrids to train with. It's too bad I narrowly missed trainign with one. But I am so happy that GDB is keeping up with the ever-changing realities of the road.

  3. Zane Train,
    Thanks for the feedback, and for keeping your partner safe. We'll check out your blog--looking forward to reading it!
    Nancy at GDB

  4. One more time! Hope it goes through. I heard of a car that goes into idle when the car stops at a light which is done to save gas. Perhaps this is something the car companies could look into for hybrids since there is noist at idle.

  5. Here's the latest: