Have you ever seen one of the new hybrid cars moving down the road?  The only sound it makes is its tires on the pavement.  Or, if it is stopped at a light, it is just sitting there with no engine noise at all.  It’s this aspect that has the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) upset.  Most sighted people would wonder why this is such a big deal to the NFB.  Isn’t a quieter car more beneficial, lowering the noise pollution in our crowded, urban environments?  That is certainly true, plus the ginormous increase in fuel efficiency, saving the planet while at the same time saving you a few bucks.  But the problem the NFB has is that most blind folks rely on hearing a car coming to determine if it is safe to step out into the street and, usually the engine noise is what we listen for.  But these cool, new, efficient, hybrid vehicles are just TOO quiet!  The NFB postulates that pedestrian versus hybrid accidents are on the rise due to the very nature of hybrids.  Sort of the new Silent Killer of the Streets.  Personally, I would expect that the number of accidents would increase of pedestrian versus hybrid vehicles simply due to the growing number of such vehicles, but remain more or less constant as a ratio of such hybrids compared to normal vehicles.  It’s just simple math and statistics.  But the NFB thinks it is an epidemic that is going to grow with alarming speed, especially among the blind.

 

The NFB is, even now, lobbying Congress to do something about this.  As far as I have been able to determine, they want some sort of solution that maintains the status quo.  What is the status quo in this situation?  Well, vehicles that are loud enough to allow someone to determine their proximity through hearing.  It doesn’t matter whether this is through the traditional internal combustion engine powering most cars on the road today, or by some as yet undetermined device to make the vehicle audible when no engine is revving and roaring to let a blind person crossing a street know that a few tons of Detroit steel only partially under the control of some Soccer Mom is bearing down on them like Juggernaut.  Probably while texting her Church group that choir practice is indeed still on this Wednesday at 6, sipping her decaf, non-fat, mocha latte, putting in a new DVD for her spawn in the media center behind her, and sneaking a few puffs on an illicit cigarette. 

 

Frankly, I think the NFB is just flat wrong on this one.  They are trying to halt progress, drag technological advancement backwards to a time where things were less dangerous.  Or at least the dangers were known and accepted by the blind, and a greater sense of comfort existed about the abilities of a trained blind person to navigate the treacherous roads and sidewalks of America.  This was held as a solid truth, something that could be held firmly in ones hand.  These nearly-silent hybrids endanger that sense of comfort and freedom.  That hard-won confidence that only a blind person possesses who has been trained and worked to gain the mobility skills necessary to travel safely.  But, as has been proven over and over, you cannot stop progress.  The NFB cannot hold back the advancing tide and is spending political capital in a pointless battle to get Congress to act on this issue.  If the NFB could work “dagnabit”, “horseless carriages”, and pesky kids” into their demands, we’d have the perfect intersection between Mister Wilson from Dennis The Menace and the generic villain from Scooby Doo.

 

What is the most likely solution for the majority of Americans to cars that are more silent and driven by drivers who are more distracted by the increasing demands on their attention in a modern vehicle with talking GPS calling out directions, a stereo blasting Madonna’s latest, A cell phone with either a text, email, or call coming in, not to mention kids screaming in the back?  It’s really simple.  We all were actually already told this when we were young.  You probably even remember it and can hear it clearly in your mind, the sound of your Mom or Dad saying “Make sure you look both ways before crossing the street!”  That’s it.  Simple. Easy.  Doesn’t cost a penny.  Just look both ways before you step out into traffic.  OK, maybe start a campaign in the elementary schools that emphasizes this.  Send in the Traffic Police guy in a dog costume to the schools to put on a Show & Tell at an Assembly to drive the point home.  But that’s all that is needed for the vast majority of Americans.  Sighted Americans, that is.

 

The blind, of course, can’t look both ways.  They can’t listen harder for a sound that isn’t there, or drowned out in the urban noise already present.  What will they do?  I suggest that instead of turning their back on technology, the NFB should be embracing it and searching for a technological solution to detecting the approach of hybrid vehicles.  And, to be honest, if you can detect a hybrid vehicle, you can detect any vehicle.  A device that could do this should make travel and street crossing safer in general, not just where hurtling hybrids silently stalk our streets.

 

That’s just my opinion, and I already know some people think I’m wrong.  But I don’t think so.  Don’t fear the future, embrace it and all of its wonders!  Yes, and even its dangers, because they represent opportunities to conquer those obstacles and expand our horizons, just as they always have in the past.

 

If I made you think about something in a different way, well, yeah, it’s my fault.

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