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Silence of hybrid cars puts pedestrians in precarious situation

Imagine you are walking up a moderately busy street -- no gridlock or anything, but cars pass by frequently. You know the street well and when you get to the intersection of your local supermarket, you prepare to cross the street. You have done it hundreds of times before so, thinking nothing of it, you cross the street because you don't hear the familiar hum of a car nearby.

All of a sudden, a hybrid or electric car -- seemingly out of nowhere -- clips you, resulting in some serious injuries. This car accident may change your life forever.

Now, in this hypothetical situation, the old adage applies: the person should have looked both ways before crossing the street. However, being able to hear oncoming cars is a big part of recognizing your surroundings as a pedestrian, and according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, hybrid cars are far too quiet.

In fact the NHTSA found that, at lower speeds, hybrid cars pose an elevated accident risk to pedestrians or bicyclists. Pedestrians have a 37% greater chance of being struck by a hybrid car at lower speeds than a traditional gas-guzzler, while bicyclists have a staggeringly higher risk rate -- 66%.

So what is being done to combat the issue of barely-audible electric vehicles? This summer, a "noise minimum" for vehicles will be established as part of the enactment of the Pedestrian Safety Act of 2010. That means there will be a legal standard that cars must meet to ensure pedestrians are able to hear approaching vehicles.

Source: Slate, "The Silent Killer," Paul Collins, May 15, 2012

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