by John Paré
From the Editor: No man has worked harder to make electric and other quiet cars loud enough that they can be heard by blind people who travel the streets of our nation than John Paré. His work in building key alliances, writing persuasive documents, making repeated telephone calls, getting himself invited to make difficult presentations, and continuing to send the message that the lives of blind people are valuable and deserve to be protected is unparalleled. Here is what he has to say in this ongoing saga to make the streets safer for all pedestrians:
After four delays by the Department of Transportation, the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act final regulation went into effect on Tuesday, September 5, 2017. The National Federation of the Blind has been working on this issue for fourteen years. We first worked for eight years to define the problem, develop key partnerships, write the legislation, and work to get the legislation passed. But our work was not over. The National Federation of the Blind then worked for six more years participating in studies, advocating with individual car companies, responding to proposed regulations, and doing our own research. In the end, our relentless attention to detail, our consistent messaging, and our unwavering passion made the difference.
There are two articles from previous issues of the Braille Monitor which detail, at great length, the history of this legislation. The first is an article from the June 2011 issue of the Monitor titled “Belling the Cat: The Long Road to the Passage of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act” by Deborah Kent Stein which details the bill from its inspiration and inception to its passage. It can be found online at https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm11/bm1106/bm110602.htm. The second is an article I wrote which was published in the April 2017 issue titled “Progress on the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act: The Regulations, the Law, and What They Will Mean for the Blind.” This second article details everything that happened after the law was passed, including the long and arduous fight to get the final regulation published, and can be found online at https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm17/bm1704/bm170403.htm.
The key points of this regulation ensure that America’s streets will be safer for all pedestrians, and in particular blind pedestrians. The final regulation prohibits a pause switch, manufacturer supplied selectable sounds, and any tampering with the device, solidifying its classification as a safety feature. Generally, the vehicle must emit a sound of at least 44 decibels when stationary or traveling in a forward speed of less than 10 kph. For vehicles with an automatic transmission, this includes all times when the vehicle is not in motion and the shifter is not in the "Park" position. For manual transmission vehicles, this includes any time the parking brake is not engaged. When traveling at a speed of greater than or equal to 10 kph, but less than 20 kph the vehicle must emit a sound of at least 51 decibels. When traveling at a speed of greater than or equal to 20 kph, but less than 30 kph the vehicle must emit a sound of at least 57 decibels. When traveling at a speed of 30 kph the vehicle must emit a sound of at least 62 decibels. At rates of speed higher than 30 kph, tire-road noise and wind resistance are considered sufficient, and the additional alert sound is no longer required. A sound of at least 48 decibels is required when the vehicle is moving in reverse. The regulation requires all four-wheeled hybrid-electric passenger vehicles under ten thousand pounds produced on or after September 1, 2019, to be compliant. Fifty percent of all hybrid-electric vehicles produced on or after September 1, 2018, must meet the above requirements.
Our advocacy on this issue is a perfect example of our commitment to help blind Americans live the lives they want. Fourteen years ago we realized that silent vehicles threatened our independence and our ability to safely walk on the streets of America. We refused to accept this possibility and set in motion the mechanism that would lead to the passage of this landmark law. Now the sounds of our success will ring freely from sea to sea.