Phoenix Pedestrians at Risk for Injury by Silent Hybrid Vehicles

Some manufacturers of hybrid vehicles boast of their near-silence on the road.

While that might be great for motorists, it could lead to pedestrian accidents in Phoenix and across the country, according to a new study released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Blind pedestrians were found to be at particular risk, as they relied more heavily on audio cues to warn them when a vehicle was near. But the truth of the matter is we are all at high risk of being injured by a driver who fails to yield or is otherwise careless — and this is particularly true when the vehicle is quiet or when city traffic or other environmental factors impair hearing.

According to the study, hybrid-electric vehicles were more than two times as likely as regular vehicles to be involved in a pedestrian crash in which the vehicle is slowing or stopping, backing out, starting in traffic or pulling into or leaving a parking space or driveway.

Phoenix pedestrian accident lawyers are aware that while speed is often considered a factor with serious crashes involving regular-engine cars, hybrid cars are more likely to cause injury to pedestrians when they are moving at low speeds. The designers of the study concluded that is because at lower speeds, these vehicles are even quieter.

Groups representing the blind have voiced concerns about the decibel level of these vehicles.

The reason these vehicles are quieter has to do with their fuel source – electric, rather than gas. In fact, they make virtually no noise at all when they are moving slowly.

The chairwoman of the National Federation of the Blind’s Committee on Automotive and Pedestrian Safety, was quoted as saying she is used to being able to derive audio cues from her surroundings in order to safely get around.

Previously, she had been certain that her sense of hearing was so acutely attuned to what was happening around her that she could hear even electric vehicles. But after doing a non-scientific test in a parking lot, she was disappointed to learn she couldn’t hear the hybrid vehicle coming close.

As gas prices continue to soar, so too do the number of consumers who are clamoring for electric vehicles. Though they are initially more expensive than gas-powered vehicles, they cut down on the astronomical gas costs.

At a meeting with the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress, new NHTSA chairman David Strickland said his organization may impose increased regulations on hybrid vehicle noise, which would hopefully lower the number of crashes involving visually impaired pedestrians.

In crash data analyzed in 12 states, the NHTSA found that hybrid cars had a significantly higher rate of crashes with pedestrians than gas-powered cars.

Still, advocates for the blind aren’t necessarily picketing for a return to gas-powered vehicles. But they are applauding the NHTSA in its recent suggestion that regulations could be imposed that would require hybrid vehicles to emit a minimum level of sound, so that blind pedestrians could be alerted.

Some makers of hybrid vehicles are already looking to implement this on their own with a device that could be installed. It’s already available in the Chevrolet Volt.

The study determined a vehicle with a frequently-pulsating sound will put a pedestrian on alert faster than higher pitches. The researchers themselves noted that this could create very “annoying” noises, but one would have to weigh out the risk versus the benefit.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a pedestrian accident in Arizona as a result of a collision with a motor vehicle, contact us online or call (866) 99-ABELS for a free consultation. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, and there are no lawyer fees unless a recovery is made on your behalf.

Quieter Cars and the Safety of Blind Pedestrians, Phase 2: Development of Potential Specifications for Vehicle Countermeasure Sounds, Final Report, NHTSA

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