So much of our safety when navigating the roads as motorists, pedestrians or bicyclists depends on our ability to hear the motors of approaching vehicles alerting us to their presence. The popularity of hybrid cars, which barely make a peep, has raised some safety concerns prompting Congress to pass the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act directing the NHTSA to develop noise alerts on hybrid vehicles.
Certainly there is some justification in their concern over the safety of pedestrians. In experiments led by a perceptual psychologist of the University of California, blindfolded subjects listening to recordings of cars approaching at five miles per hour could locate an approaching internal-combustion engine 36 feet away, whereas a vehicle running in electric mode came within 11 feet.
When realistic background noise was added to the recordings, nearly all the participants could not detect the hybrid model gliding by them in multiple trials, while all were able to hear the combustion model from an average of 22 feet away. According to a Scientific American journalist who gave it a try, “he would have been hybrid road-kill 40 times over” as would the majority of the other subjects participating in the study.
While the safety issues surrounding these silent vehicles are being worked out, pedestrians remain at risk. Since 2009, pedestrian accidents have increased nationally and one of the reasons could very well be that pedestrians simply cannot hear hybrid and electric vehicles approaching in the same way that they can pick-up on traditional gas-powered vehicles.
While pedestrians should be on the look out for these stealthy vehicles, it is the drivers of the hybrid and electric vehicles who may be liable if a crash occurs. To avoid accidents, drivers should continue to watch for all pedestrians, particularly for those who may be seeing impaired, have an obstructed view of traffic, and distracted for any number of reasons including electronic devices. Drivers of electric or hybrid cars should reasonably expect that pedestrians will not hear them and should exercise care to avoid hitting anyone in the road.
If you have been injured in a car accident, contact the Law Offices of John T. Hemminger for help.
Source: Scientific American, “Are Hybrid Cars Too Quiet to Be Safe for Pedestrians?”, by Sara Simpson, accessed June 17, 2016.
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