As the EU’s legislation on the reduction of vehicle noise progresses, 30 million blind Europeans increasingly fear for their safety, as they rely almost exclusively on their hearing when crossing the road.
Silent electric and hybrid vehicles may also pose a threat to other vulnerable pedestrians.
“Research showed that hybrid and electric cars are too silent and the crash rate is twice as high as that of traditional engines, they are a hazard for all vulnerable users, including children, elderly persons and cyclists,” said Rodolfo Cattani, in charge of relations with the EU at the European Blind Union.
The risk is at its highest at speeds up to 40 km/hour; above that limit the tire friction makes the vehicle audible, he told a press briefing in Brussels yesterday (4 December).
Conscious of the problem, the European institutions have agreed a draft EU regulation requiring car makers to build in a special alert system in all silent cars in the future, the Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS).
However, the legislation may still be too weak, as it provides the driver with the possibility to switch off the alerting device.
“The AVAS shall be fitted with a switch which is easily accessible by the vehicle driver in order to allow engaging and disengaging. Upon restarting the vehicle, AVAS shall default to the switched on”, reads Annex IX of the draft regulation.
Since the text agreed is a compromise between the EU Council and Parliament, reached after three rounds of negotiations, it is “practically a done deal”, on which the Parliament has to vote in plenary at the beginning of 2014.
Even if there is formally a possibility to still amend the legislation, the procedure is complicated: it takes at least 40 MEPs to introduce the amendment and only one to reject it, a source in the Parliament explained.
“The switch off possibility is dangerous; drivers will use it too often. We want a ban on the pause system," Cattani said.
Another matter of concern to the blind and partially sighted is the transition period allowed by the regulation: three years for new types of cars and five years for new registrations from the date of application, bearing in mind that the text hasn’t been adopted yet.
Blind people’s association warned that silent cars will have mushroomed by then, making their daily lives all the more dangerous.