NHTSA Addresses Risk to Pedestrians and Cyclists Associated with Hybrids
Hybrids and electric cars are popular in California, where many residents are environmentally conscious and wish to do their part to cut down on the use of fossil fuels. Unfortunately, these vehicles can present a significant risk to pedestrians. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, is now trying to take steps to mitigate the problem.
“While better for the environment, electric and hybrid vehicles emit little sound when traveling at low speeds,” explained California car accident attorney James Ballidis, “which can place those commuters relying on their sense of hearing to detect approaching dangers at risk.”
Electric and hybrid cars can be unsafe for pedestrians and bikers because the vehicles are too quiet. Pedestrians typically expect to hear the sound of an engine when a vehicle is approaching. The noise of a car can alert a pedestrian not to step off the curb or to cross the road. Hybrid and electric vehicles do not make the traditional engine sounds. When these vehicles are driving less than 18 miles per hour, they cannot be heard at all.
NHTSA Proposes New Rules
Because of the dangers that hybrid and electric vehicles can present to pedestrians when they are moving too slowly, the NHTSA recently announced that a new rule has been proposed. The NHTSA has proposed the rule in compliance with the 2010 bipartisan Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act (PSEA) that was signed into law.
The new rule requires that hybrid and electric vehicles meet minimum sound requirements. The cars, in other words, must emit a sound when they are traveling at such low speeds that they otherwise would not be heard. According to the NHTSA rule, the sound must be detectable despite ambient background noise and normal street noise. The sound must provide a warning to pedestrians, especially the blind and the visually impaired, when a vehicle is approaching. The sound will also help pedestrians and bike riders to detect where the vehicles are coming from so it will be safer to cross the street.
Car manufacturers will be able to design different types of sounds as they choose. The sounds can even vary by the different makes and models of each vehicle. However, all vehicles of the same make and model would need to make the same sound or the same set of sounds. Further, while carmakers would have broad discretion for exactly what sound their cars make, the sounds would need to meet certain requirements as determined by the NHTSA.
The new proposal by NHTSA is expected to make a significant difference in the safety of pedestrians and bicycle riders. According to the NHTSA press release, as many as 2,800 fewer car and bike accidents should occur over the life of each model of hybrid or electric car. This is a significant reduction in the number of people who could potentially be hurt or killed in a preventable accident.
The hope is that these new requirements will make California a safer place for pedestrians and that those choosing hybrids and electric vehicles will now be better able to share the road with bike riders and walkers without presenting an undue risk.
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