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Press Release from WBU for White Cane Safety Day 2015

Toronto, October 15, 2015

The white cane is recognized across the world as the international symbol of blindness and mobility, and that is why the World Blind Union (WBU) has chosen to focus on the issue of silent cars and their effects on mobility for blind and low-vision persons for White Cane Safety Day 2015. 

Shared spaces are becoming increasingly common in our communities, where pedestrians, vehicles and cyclists use the same space for transit. This increased complexity can make mobility more difficult for persons who have low-vision and blindness, especially when combined with newer technologies that make vehicles quieter, and therefore less detectable. When traveling at speeds under 20 kilometers an hour, hybrid and electric vehicles are essentially silent and many blind and low-vision persons depend on vehicle noise to know when it is safe to cross roads. Silent cars also pose a significant risk for all pedestrians, sighted and non-sighted, as quiet cars are 40% more likely than audible cars to be involved in a collision with a pedestrian.

The WBU wholeheartedly supports new, cleaner technologies for vehicles, including hybrid and electric cars, which are better for the environment. However, the dangers posed by hybrid and electric vehicles are real and serious for blind and low-vision pedestrians all over the world. New technologies must be designed and manufactured in a way that takes blind and partially-sighted persons’ needs into account, as called for by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its principles of universal and inclusive design.

For the past several years, the UN has been working to address the hazards posed by quiet vehicles. The World Forum for the Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29) and its subsidiary, the Working Party on Noise (GRB), as well as the Quiet Road Transport Vehicles Informal Working Group (QRTV), are the three UN bodies involved in the regulation process. The QRTV originally set-out to develop a global technical regulation for a mandatory Audible Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS). Unfortunately, this working group’s mandate has been narrowed and it is now moving towards a standard that would only apply in certain countries, not including countries such as the USA and China. We are disappointed by this move away from a global regulation.

The WBU fully supports a global standard for an AVAS that will: 1) ensure that an alert device is loud enough to provide adequate warning about the presence and movement of hybrid and electric vehicles; 2) prohibit a pause switch that would enable the driver to turn off the alert device whenever he or she finds the sound annoying; and 3) require that the quiet vehicle emit an alert sound while stationary, such as when stopped at a traffic light. 

The WBU calls on all governments and regulators to support a global technical standard that reflects the QRTV’s original mandate. WBU members, and all other likeminded stakeholders, can contact their WP.29 members and encourage them to insist that our concerns be incorporated into any final international regulation. For more information on the WP.29 and its members, follow this link:​
The World Blind Union (WBU) also has a Position Statement on this issue ( resources/Pages/Policy-Papers.aspx), which highlights the need for an AVAS in order to keep blind and low-vision pedestrians, alongside all other pedestrians, safe and fully mobile in all cities and communities across the globe.

The World Blind Union (WBU) is the global organization representing the estimated 285 million people worldwide who are blind or partially sighted.  Members consist of organizations run by blind people advocating on their own behalf, and organizations that serve the blind, in over 190 countries, as well as international organizations working in the field of vision impairment. ​

For further information, contact:

white cane logoWorld Blind Union
Caitlin Reid
Communications Coordinator