Guide dog association leaders speak out about potential dangers of electric cars

Gill Southgate is blind and has spoken out about the danger electric cars pose to the visually impai

Gill Southgate is blind and has spoken out about the danger electric cars pose to the visually impaired. Picture: Ian Burt

They are seen as away to pave a greener future and are considered an important part of cutting emissions and reducing global warming.

But while the popularity of electric cars has increased in recent years, the potential dangers they pose to blind and partially-sighted people have come under the spotlight.

Helen Sismore, Guide Dogs for the Blind Association community engagement officer for East Anglia, said the association had been lobbying to have switched-on, sound-generating devices built in to quiet vehicles.

According to Ms Sismore there is no current legislation, but by 2021 all new electric vehicles will have to be fitted with artificial sound generators – which drivers will have the option to turn off.

She said: 'The concerns are that in lab testing the audible sound works, but in real life settings it is not loud enough. We live in very busy towns and cities which are noisy places to be. We are asking for the 'pause switch' to be detectable at all times.

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'As children we are taught to stop, look and listen before crossing the road. This makes it difficult for a person with sight loss, so they have to rely much more on their hearing to know when it is safe to cross. For people who are blind or partially sighted it is about not being able to hear electric cars approach.'

Gill Southgate, chairman of the King's Lynn branch of the association, said she had to cross around 15 side roads with no crossings on her way to work and she had to put 'a lot of trust' in her guide dog, Yazmin.

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She said it was up to her to tell Yazmin when it was safe to cross by listening out for traffic noise, but if a car came round the corner her dog should not move.

'You rely on each other really,' she said. 'If you ever see anyone waiting to cross the road with a guide dog, always offer assistance,' added Mrs Southgate, who works as a medical secretary assistant at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn.

Although she acknowledged 'more and more' electric cars were appearing on the roads, the chairman said obstacles on the pavements could pose 'just as much of a danger'.

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