British Columbia

Electric cars a silent danger, Victoria blind advocates say

Some residents of a Victoria suburb are raising concerns about a new law that will allow silent electric cars on its streets.

Some residents of a Victoria suburb are raising concerns about a new law that will allow silent electric cars on its streets.

Oak Bay will be the first municipality in B.C. to legalize the fully electric vehicles, which have a maximum speed of between 30 and 40 km/h, on local roads when the new law gets the expected final approval on Aug. 18.

And while the zero-emission cars are a big hit with environmentalists, the Canadian Federation of the Blind says the cars are a hazard for those who can't see.

"For us, they are invisible," Mary Ellen Gabias, the federation's vice-president, told CBC News this week.

"If they are so quiet we can't hear them, then no sane blind person is going to want to be out on the street alone. And that would make us virtual prisoners in our own homes," Gabias said.

The Oak Bay resident supports greener cars and reducing pollution and does not want to have these vehicles banned.

Noisier cars are requested

Instead, the federation is working with its American counterpart to push car manufacturers to adopt safety standards that would require electric cars to make noise so visually impaired people would hear them idling, accelerating and slowing down.

Canadian politicians are also watching to see what standard the United Nations sets and will likely follow that lead and make one rule for the whole country, Gabias said.

The changes would benefit more than just the visually impaired, she said.

"A couple of months ago, an eight-year-old was hit by a Prius, He didn't hear it coming," said Gabias .

The new Oak Bay bylaw follows recent provincial legislation legalizing low-speed electric cars on all streets in B.C. with a speed limit of 40 km/h or less, and giving municipalities the option of allowing vehicles on roads with a speed limit of 50 km/h.

Earlier in July the Quebec government began a pilot project allowing the low-speed electric cars to operate on roads with posted speed limits less than 50 km/h.