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(VINCENT KESSLER)
(VINCENT KESSLER)

You & Your Car

I was almost run over by a hybrid car! Add to ...

I was almost run over by a car the other day. Admittedly I wasn’t paying attention, but I didn’t hear a thing. I know new cars are quieter than they used to be, but this is dangerous! My brother suggested it might have been an electric car or a hybrid, neither of which make any sound. Obviously this could be a growing safety concern, especially in crowded and noisy urban areas. – Mary in Uxbridge, Ont.

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I know what you mean. Visitors from England mentioned recently that both of them, husband and wife, had stepped off the curb in the city looking the wrong way, accustomed as they are to vehicles approaching from the other direction, and into the path of a vehicle.

They are car enthusiasts and recognized the vehicles in both cases as hybrids, which are not yet widely sold in Europe, and commented that these vehicles should be equipped with some type of warning device to prevent this.

The problem comes from not only the fact these vehicles can run without the internal combustion engine running, but also developments that have reduced rolling resistance and noise levels from tires.

I’m pleased, I think, to inform them – and you – that pending U.S. federal safety regulations will require noisemakers on all electric and hybrid vehicles that can run on battery power alone, to alert pedestrians. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposal calls for an alert under specified conditions, which does not require any action by the driver or pedestrian. The regulation will also cover light and low-speed vehicles, motorcycles, buses and heavy-duty trucks.

But this is not going to happen overnight as the NHTSA has until next summer to write the standards and January, 2014, to publish the new rule. Covered electric and hybrid vehicles would then have to comply beginning with production in September of the calendar year beginning three years after the final rule.

But manufacturers are aware of the issue. The new Hyundai Sonata Hybrid makes an engine-like sound when running on battery power, The pure-electric Nissan Leaf sounds a warning at low speeds when going forward and another when placed in reverse.

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