I’ve been researching the best new hybrids to buy, the SUVs with cargo space for lugging sporting equipment and furniture for clients versus the smaller, more practical Prius, the symbol of a Gore generation of fuel-conscious consumers.
But I have to say, I’ve been thrown by the latest safety risk I read about. It wasn’t about the performance of the cars but rather the fact that blind pedestrians cannot hear the gas-electric motors on the road.
When you rely on your ears to determine whether it’s safe to cross the intersection, the hybrids pose a terrible threat. According to the Associated Press, hybrid tests were conducted involving people standing in parking lots or on sidewalks who were told to signal when they heard different hybrid models drive by. "I couldn’t hear it," reported Deborah Kent Stein, chairwoman of the National Federation of the Blind’s Committee on Automotive and Pedestrian Safety. She shared that the other subjects participating in the test asked when the test was going to begin after a vehicle had made several laps around the parking lot. They also never heard a peep.
A spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales USA said one of the benefits of the Prius is that it doesn’t create noise pollution but even so, manufacturers are studying the issue, prompted by groups like the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind. Advocates are seeking some kind of balance, for example, a minimum noise standard level while a car is running solely on electricity.
All this brought to mind a prayer book chapter I read recently while on a Torah study retreat with my daughter in the mountains of West Marin. It said that part of the path of being a good person (I paraphrase, now) is not putting stumbling blocks in the way of the blind. I hope that in our efforts to save the planet, we aren’t doing just that.
Image: are you my rik?