US hybrid cars should be seen and heard
Washington - Silent hybrid vehicles soon may be a thing of the past.
Car safety regulators would be required to set minimum sound levels for hybrid and electric vehicles under a bill approved on Thursday by the House. Blind pedestrians have pushed for the changes, saying the quiet purr of hybrids can pose risks for them because they use sound cues to travel safely.
Hybrids like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight are well-regarded for their low fuel consumption, but the environmentally green cars are virtually silent when propelled by electric motors at low speeds.
With more hybrids and new electric cars coming onto the market, car makers and advocates for the blind have suggested they pose potential safety problems for blind pedestrians.
"The trend toward putting more environmentally friendly, quiet vehicles on the road has unintentionally jeopardized the safety and independence of the blind and other pedestrians," said Democratic Representative Edolphus Towns.
The House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 379-30. The Senate approved its version of the bill sponsored by Democratic Senator John Kerry last week, and the measure now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.
Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican, said the bill would protect blind pedestrians along with joggers, children and others who need to be alerted to approaching traffic.
Car makers, along with the National Federation of the Blind, have supported the plan and begun developing new artificial sounds that will be emitted from electric cars and future hybrids.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a research report last year that hybrid vehicles are twice as likely to be involved in pedestrian crashes at low speeds compared with conventional vehicles.
The study looked at circumstances in which vehicles were slowing down or coming to a stop, backing up or entering or departing a parking space.
The government has been researching the safety risks that hybrids and electrics can pose for blind pedestrians for vehicles travelling at 32km/h or less. When a car accelerates beyond 32km/h, the friction between the tire and the road's surface makes the vehicle louder.
Nearly 4 100 pedestrians were killed and 59 000 were injured in 2009, according to the most recent data available.