MEP Alyn Smith hails major road victory for the blind

Guide dog owners in Scotland have won a major victory in a battle to ensure they can continue to cross the road safely.

A new European law is to be introduced to make it compulsory for hybrid and electric cars - so-called silent vehicles - to be fitted with noise devices.

The ruling was passed by the European Parliament last week and should come into effect within two years. It will bring the EU into line with other countries such as the USA and Japan.

Silent vehicles are dangerous for the 520 guide dogs and their owners in Scotland as blind and partially sighted people rely on hearing gaps in traffic noise to know it is safe to cross the road.

The change in the law was warmly welcomed last night by SNP MEP Alyn Smith, who voted for the move at the parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg.

Last month, he put on a blindfold and went out with a guide dog and handler on Edinburgh’s busy street to see for himself how difficult it can be for the blind and partially sighted to cross the road.

Last night he said: “That session really brought it home to me how important it is for guide dog users to be able to hear vehicles as they approach.

“Electric and hybrid vehicles are of course great for the environment, but their quietness carries dangers for other road users and research has shown they are more likely to be in collision with a pedestrian than a conventional vehicle is.”

Alyn continued: “With more and more quiet vehicles on the road, it’s absolutely essential that we address this problem. I’m delighted that my fellow MEPS have seen this and voted for a measure which is simple to enforce but will make Scotland’s roads safer.”

Julie Millar, Engagement Manager for Guide Dogs Scotland, said that she was “delighted” to hear that MEPs had voted to introduce such a key change in the law.

She added: “People with sight loss rely on hearing the noise from cars and vans to identify a safe gap in the traffic to cross a road.

“Adding artificial engine noise to all quiet electric and hybrid vehicles will make our roads safer and help protect not only blind and partially sighted people, but all pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users.

"Thanks to Alyn and all the other MEPs who supported the amendment and
to everyone who helped us campaign on this issue."

The number of electric and hybrid vehicles is set to double in the next two years as they become more popular and efficient and as more manufacturers enter the market.

Last week, the Scottish Government revealed that it plans to install electric charging points every 50 miles along major road routes in a bid to encourage greater use of green vehicles.