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Blind People Aren’t Crazy About Your Prius

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Posted on Apr 29, 2009
Flickr / alvy

Here’s the thing about eco-friendly hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius—they’re quiet. Too quiet, if you ask the National Federation of the Blind. Luckily, Sens. John Kerry and Arlen Specter have penned the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 to address the problem.

NFB via Engadget:

Because blind pedestrians cannot locate and evaluate traffic using their vision, they must listen to traffic to discern its speed, direction, and other attributes in order to travel safely and independently. Other people, including pedestrians who are not blind, bicyclists, runners, and small children, also benefit from hearing the sound of vehicle engines. New vehicles that employ hybrid or electric engine technology can be silent, rendering them extremely dangerous in situations where vehicles and pedestrians come into proximity with each other.

“The National Federation of the Blind appreciates the wise and decisive action taken today by Senators Kerry and Specter to preserve the right to safe and independent travel for the blind,” said Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “The blind, like all pedestrians, must be able to travel to work, to school, to church, and to other places in our communities without being injured or killed. This bill will benefit all pedestrians for generations to come as new vehicle technologies become more prevalent.  The blind of America will do everything in our power to ensure its swift passage.” 

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By Bob Wilson, May 31, 2011 at 4:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

During the run-up to S.841, the blind advocacy organizations promoted similar
efforts in Japan, Australia and I remember seeing at least one call for action in
New Zealand. However, I’ve not seen a lot of success with these calls outside of
the USA.

Wishful thinking on my part, empirical data may play a bigger role in safety
regulations outside of the USA. Regardless, the USA experiment, like prohibition,

Bob Wilson

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By BMW Service Essex, May 31, 2011 at 12:55 am Link to this comment

I read recently that some European nations are considering regulations to require electric car manufacturers to add some sort of artificial engine noise in order to protect pedestrians from accidents caused by nearly silent vehicles.

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By Bob Wilson, May 25, 2011 at 2:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hi Carid,

S.841 requires a ‘study’ to figure out what noise will be required and then issue
regulations that require new hybrids and electric vehicles to implement the
regulation. Since the bill was signed January 5, 2011, I don’t expect the first
regulated cars to show up until 2016-2017. In 2007, the Cameron Gulbransen
Kids and Cars Safety Act became law and the regulations requiring
backup cameras go into force in 2012-13.

My expectation is that in 2016-17 when the noisy cars show up, S.841 will get
Congressional review. Assuming we have a change of Presidential and
Congressional political party domination, there is a chance of some ‘push back.’
We’ll see.

So far, we’re finding the Prius continues to have half the fatality rate of the USA
fleet average and this holds true with pedestrian accidents too. In 5-6 years,
there will be even more data that will further show the foolishness of this
flawed law.

Bob Wilson

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By Auto Parts, May 25, 2011 at 12:19 am Link to this comment

So this bill does what exactly? It doesn’t say, neither does the linked original article. My guess is that in true Washington fashion it’s simply a study that will spend millions of dollars to tell us what we already know. Quiet cars are a hazard to pedestrians.

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By Bob Wilson, May 2, 2009 at 6:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Kanamachi said,“I would be happy to supply you with the data from my side here.”

Please do! I am seeking empirical accident data from any governmental or peer reviewed source. It is by the numbers we have a chance to determine if this is a real risk or something else. I am a great fan of Edwards Deming’s work on quality systems and he emphasized time and time again that you have to work from data. So please share the data.

Now I realized that I’ve been pointing everyone to our report on blind pedestrians and accidents. I should have shared the URL of the source accident data:

Bob Wilson

ps. As for my personal language skill, I have two semesters of Japanese taken 30 years ago when I was stationed in Okinawa Japan. Between that along with Babblefish, I usually get enough to understand if a web site or written report is on topic and has the information needed.

I also have a Japanese friend who last year was unable to find any Japanese accident statistics for hybrid electrics and the blind. I would be quite happy to pass on your URLs or reports to him to translate as needed.

Finally, Huntsville AL has skilled Japanese instructors in the local university and translation services in part because Toyota has an engine manufacturing plant. I also have no problem with hiring a skilled Japanese translator because accurate data is so important.

pps. I own no Toyota stock but I do have a used, 2003 Prius, the last sedan shaped Prius. I’ve driven it for three and a half years and over 58,000 miles. But I’m also a pedestrian when I walk our dog or use our electric bicycle. I also have years of experience commuting on bicycles as well as a Yamaha 550 motorcycle. This experience confirmed the futility of trying to use engine sound as a substitute for an effective safety system.

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Kanamachi's avatar

By Kanamachi, May 1, 2009 at 5:36 pm Link to this comment

Thank you Mr Wilson. You have set me straight; only official agencies, or journalist reports are “legitimate”, any other comment or real-life observation made by “ordinary citizens” is hearsay or, as you say, a “…personal rant”.

I would be happy to supply you with the data from my side here. How’s your Japanese? A large part of data gathering, as you very well must know, is observation from the field, in this case the streets where these vehicles operate, is the field.

Your dismissal of this type of observation is suspect. Perhaps you have stock in Toyota and don’t want to see the profit level — large by any standard — go down by the added cost of adding a solution to this imaginary problem? I do not know, nor care. My first and last concern is safety.

Rant or no rant, to call traffic fatalities the result of muddled, undisciplined and lazy thinking is a bit rough at best, and arrogant and wrong at worse.

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By Bob Wilson, May 1, 2009 at 3:40 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As ‘faith’ reports, “I was nearly hit ...” Also, as ‘WriterOnTheStorm’ reports, “Having had several close calls ...” Where is your hospital or clinic bill?

These are anecdotal stories and not evidence of a problem. The reason we use traffic accident reports is because they are not subject to individual bias. Use your angst to do the research, find traffic data that shows a hazard.

As for Patrick Lovell who reports, “Hybrids are a hazard ...” with no backup data. This is neither data nor research. This is personal rant and one might as well claim, “The Sun revolves around the earth ...” Science and engineering doesn’t work that way.

I can be persuaded by not by some claiming ‘they once had a close call’ or ‘I hereby declare <nonsense>’ without backing data. This is lazy thinking and worse, dangerous because it delays effective action.

On average, every day, over 10 USA pedestrians die and about 60 are hurt enough to go to hospital. This is a life and death issue but not because of the Prius but because muddled, undisciplined thinking, lazy thinking.

Bob Wilson

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By Bob Wilson, May 1, 2009 at 12:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We know that hybrids have the same rate of pedestrian fatalities as ordinary gas cars because everyone, even the reader of this note, can look at the Fatality Accident Reporting System (FARS) data and the Prius sales records. No one doubts that hybrids have killed pedestrians but so too have ordinary cars and in far, far greater numbers. What the advocates of this nonsense fail to bring is any supporting empirical accident data.

Take the number of miles driven per year by the known inventory of Prius and divide into the number of Prius-pedestrian fatalities ... pedestrian deaths per millions of miles. Now do the same with any or all gas vehicles. What you’ll soon discover is the number of fatal pedestrian accidents per miles driven for the Prius and ordinary gas vehicles is statistically the same. We did that for the years 2002-2006 and the results can be found at:
search: NHTSA-2008-0108-0020

There is a an even simpler although less precise analysis.

We found there were 55 documented Prius-pedestrian fatalities 2002-2006, the same five years that there were about 23,500 vehicle pedestrian accidents. This is about 2% (55/23500). Using the Prius sales versus all vehicles (,) we found the Prius is running about 2% of all vehicle sales in the same interval. This is only a crude approximation because the annual sales numbers do not reflect the percentages of vehicles actively in service but it is a crude, back-of-the-envelope exercise. But if you have better numbers, please, trot them out and your sources.

In September 2008, I filed a Freedom of Information Request with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and they reported, as was shown in their presentation of June 23, that there was no evidence of a Prius hazard. The very people charged with sophisticated accident analysis get the same results we found: there is no known and documented Prius hazard in the traffic accident data.

Now there is a shared vehicle-pedestrian hazard that kills 4,700 every year in the USA. These pedestrians are being killed by ordinary, noise generating vehicles as well as the equally hazardous hybrids. That is what needs to be address. That is why we need effective solutions such as:

PEDESTRIAN DETECTION SYSTEMS - use radar, infrared and video detection systems to assist _ALL_ drivers of _EVERY_ vehicle. Lets get these car safety system in the pipeline to fill-in for the distracted or inattentive driver and address all of the 4,700 pedestrian deaths per year.

PEDESTRIAN IMPACT REDUCTION - follow the European approach with ratings of bumpers, hoods, windshields and quarter panels to convert fatal head and bone fractures into survivable accidents and reduce injuries. In some cases, deploy external air bags that prevent bone crushing impacts.

The cruelest way to get hybrids to continue killing pedestrians is to pass this non-science, non-fact based, placebo. It means effective systems to detect pedestrians and mitigate accident injuries and deaths will again be ignored. To advocates will listen to the ‘tinkle of the hybrids’ (if they are not using their cell phone or iPod) as they wade through pedestrian blood on the streets.

Anecdotal reports such as ‘it happened to me’ or ‘in Japan’ are sensational but not traffic data. Collect all accident reports and all vehicle numbers and then show the hazard. Don’t be mislead by sensational, single events. For example, when the plane flew into the flock of birds, ignorant folks saw this one, anecdotal story and thought all we needed were screens over the engines. But aerodynamic engineers pointed out that the aircraft would never be able to take off with such screens over the engines. This is what these proposed noise makers are ... ‘ineffective screens.’

Bob Wilson

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By WriterOnTheStorm, May 1, 2009 at 9:54 am Link to this comment

Bob Wilson,

Having had several close calls with hybrid cars while walking, I have all the empirical evidence I need. Your “research” people can come to my neighborhood anytime for a demonstration of the dangers. I can only imagine the increased danger posed to the blind.

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By Patrick Lovell, May 1, 2009 at 1:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Boy there are sure a lot of narrow minded views on this topic! Hybrids are a hazard, and there is no doubt about that. Most Americans are tied to their cars and are not affected by the noise, or lack of it, from other vehicles with exceptions of course. The blind and elderly who are relegated to the sidewalks are a different matter. I happen to live in Tokyo where 90 percent of the people walk or ride bikes, and most of the streets out of the main centre of the city are narrow, crowded, and busy with vehicles and foot traffic. I am no invalid but have had several near-misses with hybrids in the last few years. People drive them like they drive gas engine vehicles without considering the fact that they cannot be heard. Toyota, and the other manufactures did not do their research nor consider this factor before they began to build these cars and trucks. But as the number of accidents increase, and sorry Mr Wilson, there are many hybrid related fatalities here in Japan, some safety measure will have to be taken. Those who say we do not need any interference sound to me like those who were opposed to seat belts in the 60s. They were wrong then, and they are wrong today.

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By faith, April 30, 2009 at 10:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It isn’t just blind people that must be careful.  I was nearly hit in the parking lot of our grocery store last week by a small prius parked next to me.  I always look around, but I didn’t hear it and it just darted out, luckily I was able to move quickly.  I suggest the new electric car automakers put some sound mechanism on the vehicles until we all adjust to the new technology.

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By Bob Wilson, April 30, 2009 at 10:44 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Read the language of the bills. Sure they have words that say “do a study” but only as direction to implement a minimum sound level. The language is clear and unambiguous.

Our opposition research shows there is no risk from hybrid cars, the Prius, but worse, noise generators are the least effective solution. For example, that quiet sneaky bus that hit the pedestrian. How well did sound work?

As for backup beeps, I have no problem with those being built into the reverse lights of all vehicles, powered by the backup light and making noise. But if I have to choose between a backup ‘beep’ versus a backup camera, I will always take the camera.

It is a question of selecting the most effective safety feature but these bills have nothing to do with backup warnings. But since you brought it up.

The NHTSA published a report about back-over accidents, the “Chidester” report. I included it in the same set of data found at:
search: NHTSA-2008-0108-0020

In one year, there were 50 back-over accidents that killed 25 kids. Remember only 5 blind are killed in pedestrian accidents per year and none by a Prius 2002-2006. Back-over accidents are a real risk, one that kills kids by the rear bumper and EXHAUST PIPE ... a known noise source. Think about it, back-over accidents are the gold standard for how well a noise only approach works and it fatally fails by killing five times as many kids (and also older folks)as blind that die each year.

Use science, not emotion. Use empirical data, not these fake, junk reports from people who absolutely can not see the big picture. Failure to take a science based approach is and will continue to be written in blood on the streets.

Bob Wilson

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By Anonymous, April 30, 2009 at 10:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


Does anyone else suspect that whenever our addled humanity takes even the smallest technological step forward, in this instance toward the goal of environmental stewardship, some “threatened” faction (the already collapsing U.S. auto industry, perhaps?) will find some attention-seeking halfwits in D.C. to stand in the way of progress. What’s particularly revolting is that Mssrs. Kerry and Specter should hide behind an advocacy group for the blind. With all due respect to the challenges visually-impaired people bravely face every day, I would hazard a guess that the threat this “bill” purportedly would address is statistically insignificant. Haven’t these useless clowns in Washington got more important things to do with their time than piss on the fact that hybrids don’t make enough noise? WTF is going on here?

Oh, and did you hear? It seems that the Smart Car, when tested for collision safety against behemoth SUVs, apparently doesn’t do all that well. So please, for safety’s sake, drive a bloated, feature-laden, gas-guzzling SUV and ask your friendly neighborhood mechanic to put a couple Harley mufflers on it, so that everyone’s sure to hear you coming!

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By Paracelsus, April 30, 2009 at 8:52 am Link to this comment

All the Bill provides is a study of “how to make it better”.  As a wheelchair user, I’m low and not always seen by the driver, especially of a truck turning a corner.  I have been hearing about blind people being hit by cars time and again, for quite awhile.

I understand the troubles of unaccommodating world. I am worried about what the accommodation entails. I hope a solution can be reached that is livable both for the Prius owner and the blind folks.

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By NYCartist, April 30, 2009 at 7:56 am Link to this comment

All the Bill provides is a study of “how to make it better”.  As a wheelchair user, I’m low and not always seen by the driver, especially of a truck turning a corner.  I have been hearing about blind people being hit by cars time and again, for quite awhile.

Many wheelchair users in NYC have been killed by buses turning corners, not the fault of the wheelchair user.

True story: A family friend, a postal worker was hit by a post office truck backing up, many years ago, as he crossed the garage going into his post office branch to work.  This man was about 300 pounds, so one couldn’t claim he was low, or small.  The post office then put the beep noise into all trucks when they back up.

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By espaz, April 30, 2009 at 7:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

well…that all sounds quite irritating paracelsus, (the chest pain as well), however…what the hell are blind people doing wandering around on the highways in the first place ??

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By Bob Wilson, April 30, 2009 at 1:40 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) held a hearing June 23, 2008 and the record includes these counter facts and data:

1) No blind pedestrian has died in a Prius accident 2002-2006
2) Only 5 blind pedestrians out of 4,700 pedestrian deaths each year
3) The Prius has the same pedestrian accident rate as ordinary vehicles
(Source: search: NHTSA-2008-0108-0020)

The NHTSA maintains a public database of traffic fatalities, the Fatality Accident Reporting System (FARS), and there is _no_ evidence of a hybrid hazard. But there is a real problem with 4,700 pedestrian deaths and nearly 60,000 injuries each year and adding noise makers means effective systems are ignored:

1) SAAB has a pedestrian detecting radar system for sale today
2) BMW has an IR based, pedestrian detecting system for sale today
3) Denso has a pedestrian identification video system demonstrated at the Detroit Auto show
4) Europe is adding pedestrian safety to vehicle evaluation to get bumpers and hoods that reduce injury and avoid deaths

Every one of these technical approaches will save lives that even iPod and cell phone pedestrians will benefit. But adding noise makers only ensures the same failing system, noisy cars, will continue to kill all pedestrians including the blind.

Understand that the way these bills are written, sound is not an option, This is a study to force sound on hybrid cars.

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By Bisbonian, April 29, 2009 at 8:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Nuts.  I’m sick of car noise.  We could all use a little less of it.

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By Paracelsus, April 29, 2009 at 8:23 pm Link to this comment


I don’t know whether it’s epi-gastric or coronary in nature, but I feel very blessed.

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By Paracelsus, April 29, 2009 at 8:20 pm Link to this comment

@ espaz

The new Priuses with require 2 cycle engines, and a straight pipe muffler system. The electric motor will run off its true axis with a large counter weight like a sex toy so that it can vibrate a box of rocks. I have seen the prototypes, and the tight German engineering just brings tears to my eyes. The law makes an exemption for EPA regs, of course. The compassion of Specter and Kerry gives me a warm feeling in my chest. I don’t whether it’s epic gastric or coronary in nature, but I feel very blessed.

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By espaz, April 29, 2009 at 6:14 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

this article just pisses me off!! i kept reading and reading to find out what any solutions there could be to the problem, only to find that NONE ARE mentioned!  whistles??  a buzzing sound maybe… occational beeping ?? i mean….wtf??

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By samosamo, April 29, 2009 at 5:44 pm Link to this comment

““Luckily, Sens. John Kerry and Arlen Specter have penned the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 to address the problem.”“

Wow, I feel safer already. I just wonder how much is ‘earmarked’ for what and for who. Bet this will enable reid and pelosi to pay for their seats in congress. Another sympton of swine flu better known as pork.

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