House Bill Seeks to Protect People from Quiet Engines

A new bill would require the Secretary of Transportation to conduct a study on how to protect the blind and others from being injured or killed by vehicles using hybrid, electric, and other silent engine technologies.

Blind pedestrians use their hearing to determine traffic speed, direction, and other attributes in order to travel safely and independently. Bicyclists, runners, and small children also benefit from hearing the sound of vehicle engines, say two congressmen who are concerned that the quietness of new vehicles that employ hybrid or electric engine technology may pose a risk to some people.

U.S. Reps. Edolphus "Ed" Towns (D-N.Y.) and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) introduced the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2008 (H.R. 5734) to protect the blind and others from being injured or killed by silent engine vehicles.

Towns, who has experience teaching the blind to travel by cane, said the sound of traffic can be "critically important" for them to travel safely and independently. Stearns said he has heard some of the same safety concerns from senior citizens in his district. "The beneficial trend toward more environmentally friendly vehicles has had the unintended effect of placing the blind and other pedestrians in danger," Towns said."This bill will prevent many injuries and fatalities while still allowing more clean vehicles on our nation's roads."

The bill would require the Secretary of Transportation, within 90 days of its enactment, to begin a two-year study to determine the best means to provide the blind and other pedestrians with information about the location, motion, speed, and direction of vehicles. Upon completion of the study, the secretary will report the findings to Congress and, within 90 days, establish a minimum vehicle safety standard for all new vehicles sold in the United States.Automobile manufacturers will have two years to comply with the vehicle safety standard.

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