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NHTSA: Hybrid Vehicles Must Make Noise So They Aren’t Deadly to Pedestrians

Being a pedestrian in Florida is dangerous. The risk of being hit by a car while walking is increasing everywhere, but the Sunshine state has one of the highest rates of pedestrian injuries and fatalities in the country. This risk is exacerbated by the proliferation of hybrid and electric vehicles. 

Although these cars are great for the environment, they are not so great for people on foot. The reason has to do with the fact that they are so quiet, they “sneak up” on pedestrians, who might otherwise hear the vehicle approach and take appropriate protective measures. The risk is especially out-sized for people who are blind, visually impaired or elderly.

Engine noise in these vehicles is next-to-nothing, usually limited to sounds generated by wind resistance or tire noises – and even that occurs only at moderate speeds. Now, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a new rule requiring that by September 2019, all newly-manufactured electric vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less make some audible noise when traveling either forward or in reverse at speeds of 19 mph or less. 

As U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said late last year, it’s imperative for pedestrians to hear as well as see cars approaching because we rely on our senses to alert us to possible danger.

Half of new vehicles have to be in compliance by November 2017. The hope is that this will significantly lower the number of pedestrian accidents involving hybrid vehicles, which do have a higher rate of pedestrian crashes than vehicles with engines fueled by gasoline. Although there are less of these electric vehicles on the road, they are increasing as people become more environmentally conscious.

Even more recently than the new rule, the NHTSA released an updated analysis of pedestrian and bicyclist crashes with hybrid vehicles.

Study authors did note that two factors that played a significant role in the risk: Population density and vehicle distribution density. Essentially what this means is big cities tend to have higher pedestrian crash rates. This is true overall, but it’s particularly true when we’re talking about electric vehicles.

Other possible risk factors include:

  • Distracted driving
  • Distracted walking
  • Environmental noise level

The new NHTSA analysis looked at crash data from 16 different states, including Florida (between 2002 and 2009). What those findings revealed was that hybrid electric vehicles have a 20 percent higher likelihood of a pedestrian accident than petroleum-fueled vehicles, when we control for other factors. In just looking at low-speed maneuvers, hybrid-electric vehicles have a 50 percent higher likelihood of being involved in a crash. They also had a 50 percent higher likelihood of being involved in bicycle accidents, even when controlling for various speed maneuvers.

Some manufacturers of hybrid and electric vehicles had already been trying to increase the sound emissions – but not necessarily to improve pedestrian safety. Rather, according to The Verge, many sports car customers prefer that “growl” when they lay on the pedal. Vehicle makes can achieve this by finding a way to inject artificial noise into the electric vehicles.

If you are injured in a pedestrian accident in Orlando, we can help.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Updated Analysis of Pedestrian and Pedalcyclist Crashes With Hybrid Vehicles, February 2017, NHTSA

More Blog Entries:

Florida Texting-Driving Laws Weak, Driving Up Auto Insurance Rates, March 18, 2017, Pedestrian Accident Attorney Blog

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