Electric and Hybrid Cars To Make More Noise, For Safety’s Sake

When you’re out walking on the street as a pedestrian, or riding your bike – and it’s quiet on the road – that can be a sure sign of disaster.

Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t. That’s because electric and hybrid cars, right now, do not make any noise when traveling at less than 18 miles per hour.

Hybrids and electric cars don’t depend on traditional gas or diesel-powered engines at low speeds, which makes them much quieter than traditional cars, and it also makes it hard to detect their approach. That means that pedestrians don’t hear the cars coming and going. And neither do bicyclists. If pedestrians and bicyclists don’t receive adequate warning that cars are approaching, this can put them in harm’s way. Despite all of their advantages – especially gas savings – hybrid and electric cars can pose special problems.

As a Dedham, MA car-bike accident lawyer I know all too well that quiet electric and hybrid cars can spell trouble for cyclists on Massachusetts’ streets, especially at intersections. They can cause accidents that could have otherwise been avoided, leading to personal injuries for both drivers and cyclists. Similarly, as a Norwood, Mass., pedestrian-car accident lawyer, I know that hybrid and electric automobiles can cause the same problems for pedestrians. When anyone is walking on the street without a sidewalk, or waiting at an intersection, and they can’t hear any cars coming – this is the proverbial “accident waiting to happen.” Low-level noise provides an adequate warning of incoming cars, and prompts pedestrians – and also joggers — to pay closer attention to their surroundings and get out of the way of incoming traffic. Cars that are too quiet can definitely lead to catastrophic personal injuries for pedestrians and cyclists.

Currently, the U.S. government wants electric and hybrid vehicles to make low-level noise, when they are driving at less than 18 miles per hour. If they do make noise, cyclists and pedestrians will be able to hear them coming. Vehicles that make more noise will also provide warnings to the blind and the visually impaired, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The proposal — Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 141 — would fulfill Congress’ mandate in the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act; it states that hybrid and electric vehicles must meet minimum sound requirements, so that pedestrians and cyclists can detect the location, presence, and direction of these vehicles when they are moving at low speeds. As it stands now, automakers would have the choice to select the sounds and noises that the cars make, with similar vehicles emitting the same kinds of sounds. The NHTSA says that if this proposal were to be issued, there would be 2,800 less cyclist and pedestrian injuries over the life of each model year of hybrid vehicles.

Here’s something to consider. It’s a fact that recovering from the physical and psychological damages following a car accident is just one of many battles you will have to fight if you suffer personal injuries from this type of accident. Car-accident victims who are seeking financial damages from the driver who caused their injuries, will fight a much larger battle — against insurance companies. That’s because almost always, defendants in a car accident are represented by their insurance carrier. And – here’s the important part — insurers will do all they possibly can to deny your claim for injuries. They will do everything they can, legally, to dismiss your claim and even minimize any amount they might pay out to you.

In my opinion, quiet cars only belong on AmTrak. I applaud the automobile industry’s proposed move to make our streets safer for drivers, cyclists, joggers, and pedestrians.