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Silent electric buses pose safety risk to low vision community, NSW inquiry told

A government inquiry into electric buses has heard more than one third of vision-impaired people surveyed have experienced a collision or near-miss with an electric vehicle.

Vision Australia cited findings from a 2018 Monash University survey in its submission to a New South Wales Government inquiry into the benefits of electric buses and barriers to their wider use on city and country public transport fleets.

Blind Citizens Australia (BCA) has also lodged a submission that raises safety concerns for blind or vision-impaired pedestrians if they are unable to determine the proximity of vehicles through audio cues.

In its submission, Vision Australia stated a key finding from the Monash research demonstrated 35% of people who are blind or have low vision have experienced a collision or near-collision with an electric or hybrid vehicle.

Further, 75% indicated the introduction of the vehicles has reduced their confidence to walk and cross roads because they no longer feel safe.

“Electric vehicles are near-silent, and so cannot be detected audibly. People who are blind or have low vision rely on audible cues such as traffic noise for orientation and determining when it is safe to cross a road,” the submission stated.

“Without such cues, crossing a road can be dangerous, because it is easy to walk straight in front of a silent electric vehicle without knowing it is there, giving the driver no time to avoid a collision.”

In recent years, the US and Europe has introduced new standards requiring all electric/hybrid vehicles to be fitted with Acoustic Vehicle Alert Systems (AVAS) so they emit detectable levels of noise.

Vision Australia has met with Federal MPs and senior staff in the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities who have assured that AVAS will be required for electric cars entering the local market in future.

In terms of accessibility, vision-impaired community advocates say buses remain the most difficult form of public transport, however it is hoped upgrades to the network could overcome some major hurdles.

Vision Australia and BCA support implementation of ‘stop announcements’ that enable passengers to determine where they are located in relation to their final destination.

They also recommended electric buses are fitted with technology that allows automated audio about the location of the bus, including recent and upcoming stops, to be made without the intervention of the bus driver.

According to Vision Australia: “We think that there is scope for investigating a solution involving Bluetooth or similar technology that would allow each bus to transmit identifying and location information to an app, which a person who is blind or has low vision would use on their smartphone to assist them find the bus they wanted.”

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