Chris Edwards says he has almost been hit by an electric car himself while walking through a car park.
The head of government relations at Vision Australia, who is blind, is campaigning for Australia to finally make cars and other vehicles such as bikes and scooters “noisier”.
The growing number of electric vehicles is big worry for Aussies who are have low or no vision, he says.
Around 35 per cent of people with vision impairment surveyed by Vision Australia said they had been hit by, or nearly collided with a vehicle, while walking.
“We get contacted at Vision Australia a couple of times a month by people talking about the issues,” Edwards said.
Vision Australia is urging the new federal transport minister, Catherine King, to finally take action, in line with other countries.
Nations such as the USA, Japan as well as the European Union have ruled electric cars must emit a noise when travelling at slower speeds to warn people who can’t see them, of their approach.
Research by the Royal National Institute for the Blind in the UK found pedestrians are 40 per cent more likely to be hit by a hybrid or electric car than by one with a petrol or diesel engine.
“We want Australia to catch up to the rest of the world to ensure the standards that are applied in countries like America, in Europe and Japan that require all new vehicles to have minimum noise levels when they’re travelling slowly,” Edwards said.
“The future is electric cars, there’s a massive uptrend in the number of cars coming in.
“This is a safety issue not just for blind people, it’s an issue for everybody in the community.
“This tech exists in every other part for the world and the design rules should exist in Australia.”
Vision Australia’s Nadia Mattiazzo, who looks after Seeing Eye Dog users, said negotiating electric vehicles is a challenge for her dog, Nadia, as well as for her.
“It’s a real nightmare and a real challenge for a blind person,” she said.
“I’ve heard of people being hit, I’ve heard of people walking into them, I’ve heard of people being put in danger.
“I get the environment, but have an audible signal when they’re moving slowly or they’re stopped.”
Vision Australia says studies have shown the number of Aussies with no or low vision will reach more than 500,000 by 2030. Currently 131,000 Aussies are partially or fully blind, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Sales of plug-in electric vehicles in Australia tripled in the past year from 6,900 in 2020 to 20,665 in 2021, the Electric Vehicle Council said.
Delivery service HungryPanda’s head of public affairs Kitty Lu said the service, which has 15000 drivers who use electric vehicles, would welcome new rules.
“We have actually initiated talks about installing a special sound bell system on all of our e-bikes to ensure those who are blind and low vision can always hear one of our riders coming,” Lu said.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Infrastructure, Transport Regional Development and Communications said the department is “aware of concerns about the risks posed to vulnerable road users by electric vehicles”.
“[The department] is planning to release a consultation paper in the coming months to consider mandating acoustic vehicle alerting systems in new electric vehicles,” she said.