Electric Cars Pose a Silent Danger to Pedestrians

| 5/21/2013 12:00:00 PM

Tags: electric cars, soundless engines, pedestrians, Department of Transportation, Soli Salgado,

Electric car charging

One more daily object has joined the typewriter, jukebox and phone as an improved electric commodity: cars. Propelled by a soundless electric motor, these vehicles are able to convert about 60 percent of the electrical domestic energy from the grid to power at the wheels, whereas conventional gasoline vehicles usually can only convert 20 percent of the energy. Its tailpipes also do not produce polluting emissions.

While January sales proved that electric vehicles have had a slow adoption rate, accounting for only 4 percent of the U.S.’s light-vehicle sales, the pros of buying one of these cars can be financially and environmentally uplifting: zero/reduced emissions, the comfort of being able to charge it from home, and its ongoing fuel and maintenance savings. But people also say they find them too expensive and that the battery takes far too long to charge, nor can it last as long as a fuel-charged car.

One seeming pro has also been considered a dangerous con: its silence. Electric cars often catch pedestrians and bicyclists — especially the visually impaired — off guard when driving slower than 18 mph due to its soundless engine. According to a 2011 U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study, electric vehicles are twice as likely to cause accidents while backing up, slowing or stopping, starting in traffic, or entering or leaving a parking space or driveway. The agency said a so-called “quiet car rule” could potentially save 35 lives and prevent 2,800 injuries each year, approximately costing an additional $35 per car.

The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010, proposed by NHTSA, requires the U.S. Transportation Department to write a rule addressing this issue by Jan. 4, 2014. Automakers would individually decide what the car sounds like when going less than 18 mph while meeting certain minimum requirements.

Photo by Fotolia/Volker Witt

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