Baltimore Pedestrian Accident Prevention: Are Hybrid Cars a Walking Hazard?

Now that students are back to school and working people have all but forgotten their summer vacations, we’re seeing the usual uptick in fall foot traffic. As Maryland pedestrian accident attorneys, we’ve handled many unfortunate cases where someone walking to or from school or work was injured or killed by an errant driver. Now we have to wonder if some technologies are making walking even more dangerous.

A research report from earlier this year noted that Japan is making strides to build hybrid cars that make more noise. Now the U.S. is also looking at the issue of hybrids being too quiet for pedestrian safety. Apparently these energy-saving vehicles are so much quieter than conventional cars and SUVs that pedestrians may simply not hear them coming. This presents a challenge for the motor vehicle industry, which has always strived to make vehicles quieter, the ride “smoother,” and reduce noise pollution.

Researchers suggest auto manufacturers should “add engine noise” to hybrid vehicles to avoid pedestrian accidents. Hybrids running in electric mode on low speeds may be difficult to hear. Older people with hearing loss, vision-impaired people — as well as distracted pedestrians wearing headsets, iPods, or talking on cellphones — may simply not hear a nearly silent hybrid car approaching as they step into the street or intersection.

Traffic accidents in Maryland involving pedestrian fatalities numbered at 116 in 2007. That’s a five-year high, up from a low of 95 in 2006. While Maryland’s total number of traffic fatalities are down, the number of pedestrians who lost their lives in motor vehicle accidents is up (NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts: Maryland 2003 – 2007).

Nationally, a total of 4,654 pedestrians were killed and more than 70,000 were injured in 2007. It will be interesting to see how safety advocates and the motor vehicle industry respond to the issue of vehicles that are now too quiet.

Noise — the lack of it — a problem with silent hybrid autos Sept. 27, 2009
Japan may add noise to quiet hybrid cars for safety July 3, 2009
Hybrid cars too quiet for pedestrian safety? Add engine noise, say human factors researchers Nov. 17, 2008
Related Web Resource

NHTSA Traffic Safety: Pedestrian Safety Program

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