Are Hybrid Cars A Danger To Pedestrians?

Bill intended to protect blind people and other pedestrians from the dangers posed by quiet cars will be introduced Wednesday in Congress.

BALTIMORE (AP) -- A bill intended to protect blind people and other pedestrians from the dangers posed by quiet cars will be introduced Wednesday in Congress.
The measure would require the Secretary of Transportation to establish safety standards for hybrids and other vehicles that make little discernible noise, including an audible means for alerting people that the cars are nearby.
The Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind has pushed for the legislation, part of its campaign to raise awareness of the potential for accidents involving hybrid vehicles and people who rely on their hearing to know when to cross the street.
While the organization is not aware of people being struck by cars they couldn't hear, NFB President Marc Maurer has said he fears it's only a matter of time.
Preliminary results of an ongoing study at the University of California-Riverside have indicated the cars pose some risk. The study found that hybrids operating at slow speeds must be 40 percent closer to pedestrians than combustion-engine vehicles before they make enough noise for their location to be detected.
Hybrid vehicles operate on battery-powered electric motors when idling and traveling at slow speeds; internal combustion engines, with their distinctive rumble, kick in when the cars speed up.
''The beneficial trend toward more environmentally friendly vehicles has had the unintended effect of placing the blind and other pedestrians in danger,'' said Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., who's sponsoring the bill with Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla.
Stearns said he realized how important the legislation was when he had his own close call with a quiet car.
''I was down in Florida in the parking lot of a shopping center, and I was wheeling my groceries with my wife, and I didn't hear a car come up behind me,'' Stearns said. ''If all the cars are silent in the future, it does pose a problem, not just for the blind, but for people that are not paying attention, particularly senior citizens and also children.''
The bill would require the Transportation Department to conduct a two-year study before finalizing the safety standards. Once the standards are issued, automakers would have two years to comply.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a division of the Transportation Department, is planning a listening session this spring to look at possible solutions to the quiet-car problem. NHTSA is also working with manufacturers on ways to make the cars safer, deputy administrator James F. Ports Jr. said in a statement.
Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said he had not seen the bill and couldn't comment on specifics but said the alliance was eager to address the issue. The alliance represents Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC, as well as Toyota Motor Corp., the No. 1 hybrid manufacturer.
''The alliance is committed to working with the National Federation of the Blind, policymakers and others including technical experts to address this issue on a national level,'' Newton said.
Clarence Ditlow, president of the Center for Auto Safety, said he favored enhanced safety standards for quiet cars but wasn't sure a two-year study was necessary.
''It seems to me that if we can put audible signals on walk signs for the blind, then we can put an audible signal on a hybrid,'' Ditlow said.
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