Marcia A. Ways
Re: Follow-up to Hearing on Access Issues for People with Vision Loss Related To Quiet Cars
To Whom It May Concern:
This is to provide the comments of the undersigned parties. The National Council for Support of Disability Issues (NCSD) and the American Council of the Blind of Maryland (ACBM) have concerns about potential access issues imposed by quiet vehicles. We find that quiet vehicles which do not rely upon internal combustion engines for locomotion, and the issues posed by increasingly complex intersections and highway design philosophies and practices, combine to seriously threaten the safety and independence of pedestrians who cannot see. As organizations that represent people with vision impairments, and other significant disabilities, we are eager to engage in dialogue and collaboration with decision makers and public administrators to promote the development of sound public policy that can address these important safety issues. We look forward to collaborating with you as the policy and rule-making processes proceed forward and to providing valuable input on reasonable and sound policy approaches.
Federal Highway Administration statistics indicate that an average of 5,000 pedestrians die annually on our nation's streets and 70,000 are injured. Individuals with vision impairments are struck and killed by vehicles at an alarming rate. We can expect the number of these catastrophic accidents to increase dramatically as our population ages and visual impairments become more prevalent, as intersections and high-speed highways become more complex, and as the number of vehicles that cannot be detected audibly also increases. Although each death or injury caused by a traffic crash is tragic, the economic effects of motor vehicle crashes are also consequential. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that in 2000, traffic crashes cost citizens millions of dollars in the form of property damage, lost productivity and medical expenses. This figure does not include the cost of pain and suffering or the non-monetary value associated with lost lives.
Quieter cars represent just one facet of a larger set of issues that concern the safe and independent travel of people with disabilities. The public, private and non-profit sectors will need to formulate and implement a number of approaches and strategies to properly address these issues, including, but not limited to, addressing the potential access barriers imposed by quieter cars. NCSD and ACBM continue to collaborate to forge relationships and advocate for public policy that can positively impact the safety and independence of the broadest array of citizens. The passage of Congressional resolutions H. Con. Res. 235 (2006) and S. Con. Res. 71 (2006) represent important steps toward reducing the number of deaths and injuries experienced by our citizens who are blind and visually impaired and otherwise disabled. These resolutions encourage states to require that those seeking a driver's license demonstrate, as a condition for obtaining a license, the ability to exercise increased caution when driving in the proximity of an individual who uses a white cane or guide dog. This legislation is supported not only by leading national blindness organizations, such as the Blinded Veterans Association and the American Foundation for the blind, but also by the Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. These resolutions represent productive statements of national policy on pedestrian safety that, we believe, should be applied here at home. Therefore, we urge the state to draft, introduce and enact legislation to mandate that drivers in the state demonstrate this level of knowledge about pedestrians with disabilities.
We also encourage the state to utilize its resources to conduct a media outreach campaign about pedestrian safety issues experienced by people with disabilities. Working as a whole, guide dog teams can utilize the skills they acquire at school and learn through repeated exposure to the city thoroughfares and streets to detect vehicles, no matter their noise levels and relay this information to their handlers. However, the more information that such guide dog teams can assimilate from the environment only improves their safety and ability to continue to function as a partnership in independence. This is why our organizations advocate the better view that all cities and states should collaborate with the blindness community to install Accessible Pedestrian Signals. We believe that the installation of APS is one important solution to the issue of quieter cars.
Further, we support exploring the ramifications of the ways in which we fuel our modes of transportation. We understand that vehicles which emit lower levels of air pollution will ultimately result in a cleaner environment for everyone, including people with disabilities. We are eager to collaborate with the Maryland General Assembly, other elected officials and organizations toward ensuring this positive outcome for society.
In addition, however, we believe it is equally critical to assure that an improvement in air quality does not coincide with a heightening of the statistics regarding death and injury for people who are vision impaired and otherwise disabled. We thank the Committee for providing us an opportunity to be heard. We look forward to participating in collaborative efforts to find ways to enhance the safety and independence of all our citizens, to seek solutions to problems and reach consensus so that the needs of every citizen will be addressed where public policies are concerned. We believe that much can be accomplished through candid discussion and collaboration. This is as opposed to media oriented protests as was the circumstance during the hearing of extant. As such, we would be delighted to be of assistance to the committee. Please do not hesitate to telephone me at – (410) 241-6745 if I can be of further assistance.
Gary C. Norman, Esq., device President, Legal Chair & Spokesperson
National Council for Support of Disability Issues
Patrick M. Sheehan, President
American Council of the Blind of Maryland
CC: Maggie McIntosh, Chair
Maryland General Assembly
House Environmental Matters Committee
Maryland Department of Disabilities
Maryland Department of Transportation