I have a daughter who was diagnosed with Stargardts macular dystrophy at the age of 22. She is gradually losing her sight. At the moment, she walks with a cane and still has some peripheral vision. With all of the discussion around how quiet EVs are, I asked her what her thoughts were on the matter.
She tells me that some ICE vehicles are pretty hard to hear as well — on an arterial road, it doesn’t matter what the engine type is, the noise level is high. She doesn’t walk through car parks (parking lots, for any Americans in the room), as they are too dangerous for her. The majority of the time, the problem is not the vehicles, but driver inattention. When you are blind, you don’t see the blind spots. When you are blind, you are not aware that people haven’t seen you.
On a typical shopping trip, the drivers see the white cane and are quite considerate if she encounters them coming in and out of small shopping centre car parks. Main roads have controlled crossings with audio tactile prompts. Most side street crossings don’t have these. She waits until she can’t hear the traffic, then she crosses the road. Here’s the problem.
Unless the EV is fitted with an Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS), it is possible that she will step out in front of it. Even if the sound producer does not activate until the vehicle is travelling at low speeds, it is quite likely it will give a warning sound in time. When a vehicle is turning a corner, however, it is slowing down and getting quieter but most likely won’t reach 20 km/h in time to warn a pedestrian. On Australian suburban roads, there are many instances where there is no controlled crossing and cars are travelling in excess of 40 km per hour.
Listening to my daughter talking about this and the stress that just going for a shopping trip causes her made me think that the position of Vision Australia might not go far enough. Perhaps EVs need to make some noise at suburban speeds — whatever the speed limit is: 40, 50, or even 60 km per hour.