by Melanie Brunson
For some time, ACB members and others throughout the blind community have been looking for ways to increase public awareness about the dangers blind pedestrians face when confronted by automobiles that are too quiet to be detected without vision. Last month, this effort received a major boost with the introduction of H.R. 5734, The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2008. This bill, which is being sponsored by Reps. Edolfus "Ed" Towns (D-N.Y.) and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), directs the Secretary of Transportation to conduct a study beginning within 90 days of enactment of the legislation to determine the minimum level of sound emission that is necessary to enable pedestrians to detect the presence of, speed, and direction of travel of automobiles. This study must be completed within two years of its commencement, at which time, the secretary shall report the study's findings to Congress. Within 90 days after the conclusion of the study, the secretary is then directed to establish a standard that will take into account the results of the study, and will set forth the minimum information that must be provided by motor vehicles required for blind and other pedestrians to travel safely and independently in urban, rural, and residential environments. The bill provides that the standard shall apply to all "new motor vehicles."
ACB is working closely with staffers from both of these representatives' offices, as well as the office of Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) who has been very supportive of federal legislation to address these issues. Young has recently signed on as a co-sponsor of this legislation. And many more co-sponsors are needed if we are to get this legislation through the House and Senate.
Many of you visited your representatives in February to speak to them about this issue. Now that we have a specific piece of legislation that addresses it, we are asking that you contact your representatives again and urge them to co-sponsor H.R. 5734. If you have not voiced your opinion to members of Congress yet, now is the time! We are asking all ACB members and friends to get behind this legislation and urge members of Congress to support it. There are several ways to do this. You can get in touch with your representative's local office, or you can call their Washington offices by calling the Capitol switchboard and asking for your particular representative's office. The number to call in Washington is (202) 225-3121.
This legislation should result in measures that will benefit not only people who are visually impaired, but pedestrians of all ages and abilities. Rep. Stearns, one of the bill's sponsors who is fully sighted, described an incident from his own experience that prompted him to take an interest in this issue. During a press conference announcing the bill's introduction, Stearns described how he and his wife were nearly hit by a car as they exited a grocery store because they were looking at their loaded grocery cart and talking to one another instead of looking for oncoming traffic. Neither of them saw the car that was approaching them, and neither of them heard it, so they did not react to its presence until it was dangerously close. This scenario could happen to anyone, especially, anyone with a visual impairment.
If you want to reduce the chances that it will, please help us increase Congressional support for H.R. 5734. Call your representative today and ask them to co-sponsor it. When you do, don't forget to let us know how your representative responded. ACB's governmental affairs director, Eric Bridges, is keeping track of which members agree to sponsor this legislation as a result of contact from ACB members. He is also looking for opportunities to follow up with members who might be interested, but want more information, so please call us and let us know the results of your contacts with Congressional offices.
This is an opportunity to effect real change with very practical benefits. Please join in the effort to make that change happen.