15th February 2013
I was delighted to visit Guide Dogs for the Blind at their regional headquarters in Exeter to discuss EU proposals on vehicle noise levels that would affect everyone’s safety, in particular blind and partially sighted pedestrians.
When we cross the road a fully sighted person uses a combination of sight and sound to identify whether it is safe to cross or not. For a blind person, they have to rely on their hearing alone. The increase in the number of quiet vehicles, such as hybrid or electric cars, on our roads therefore poses a real threat to blind people in our communities.
Guide Dogs for the Blind were concerned that the Sound Levels on Motor Vehicles Regulations passing through the European Parliament weren’t going to be strong enough. They wanted the Acoustic Vehicle Alerting Systems (AVAS) in quiet vehicles to be made mandatory and without a ‘pause’ button that would allow the driver to turn off the AVAS if the car was moving.
A lesson on how we all rely on our hearing can be drawn from the actions of the Lotus car manufacturers, who whilst developing a ‘quiet’ car had to fit it with AVAS in the factory because of too many near misses with their employees.
I am delighted to say that AVAS will now be mandatory in quiet vehicles, although the exact nature of the sound that the cars will be required to emit has still to be determined. Our roads are already dangerous enough for everyone and we need as many of our senses as possible working to identify where the threat is coming from and how we can avoid it.