Blind in city report close calls with vehicles

Hybrid vehicles may be good for the environment, but local advocates say they’re not so great for blind people.



An unforeseen side effect of more hybrid cars on Ottawa streets has been a spike in the number of near run-ins blind people have had with the near-silent vehicles, according to the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, which plans an information session today outside the Ottawa International Auto Show to highlight the problem.



"Unfortunately, these new hybrid or quiet cars and buses can be dangerous to pedestrians, especially pedestrians who are blind or have low vision," said John Rae, first vice-president of the AEBC. "Many near accidents have already occurred."

Hybrids use less fuel and emit less exhaust by switching their power source to battery-electric motor at lower speeds. But they are nearly silent when in fuel-saving mode, and that’s causing a new hazard for blind pedestrians, the AEBC says.

"Obviously, it’s the wave of the future. We want people to know they are a danger to blind people in particular," said group member John Southern, who is totally blind.

"With a regular car, a (blind) person can listen for the flow of traffic," he said. "But with a hybrid you can’t do that. Before long, all cars are going to be hybrid and it will be a real problem."

Southern emphasized the group is not against hybrids.

"We care about the environment as much as anyone else," he said.

But the group is demanding manufacturers build a low, audible signal into the car, which is activated when the vehicle is in silent mode.

Southern is asking people contemplating a hybrid to express their interest in such a feature to the dealership.

car show

  • Hybrid vehicles will be featured among the hundreds of new designs at the car show that runs through Sunday at the Ottawa Congress Centre.