It seemed an achievement, as carmakers for decades had been working to make cars that were quieter.
But it’s actually a little too quiet for the those at the U.S. Department of Transportation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the lack of sound emanating from these vehicles poses a sharp risk to pedestrians and children – who can’t hear if the vehicle is approaching, backing up or rounding the corner.
Our Birmingham accident lawyers know this is the reasoning behind the latest NHTSA proposal to require these vehicles meet minimum sound standards. Of particular concern is the risk to those who are blind or visually impaired.
How exactly these companies will do that isn’t clear. Hybrid and electric vehicles aren’t reliant on diesel or gas-powered engines (at least when they are at slower speeds) which means they are far quieter on the road.
The proposal, which would be adopted by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, was part of a list of requirements detailed in the 2010 Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act.
It gives manufacturers flexibility in determining how or what kind of sound they want their vehicle to emit, so long as it is audible in a wide range of environments and so long as pedestrians are going to recognize it as being that of a vehicle, and not something else.
The NHTSA estimates that by enacting this rule, they will be able to prevent some 2,800 total pedestrian and bicyclist injuries by 2016 and save approximately 35 lives. The agency estimates this will also save us $6.3 million on a national scale.
The agency began looking into this issue back in 2008, and the following year it published a technical report documenting the incidence of crashes involving hybrid and electric vehicles versus bicyclists and pedestrians. When compared to regular vehicles, hybrid and electric vehicles were twice as likely to strike a pedestrian as it was starting into tracking, backing out, slowing/stopping or entering/leaving a parking space.
Still, the agency understands that an industry can’t be expected to change overnight. The hope is that by the end of the third year after the rule is adopted, 100 percent of all vehicles produced from that point forward will be compliant.
Vehicle manufacturers have known for some time this was coming. Back in 2009, an article in The New York Times reported on how a number of automakers were teaming up with Hollywood to try to custom design their engine noises. There may even be the possibility for some drivers to actually choose the kind of noise they want their vehicle to make.
In the meantime, hybrid and electric vehicle owners have taken some of the responsibility on themselves. Some have reported that when driving along busy streets or approaching a bustling intersection, they roll down their windows and turn up the radio, so people will be sure to hear them coming. It’s not full-proof, but until the rule takes effect, it’s better than nothing.
Noise requirements proposed for hybrid and electric vehicles, Jan. 8, 2013, By David Undercoffler, Los Angeles Times