The Senate Says: Hybrids are Too Quiet for Safety Sake


We all know that risk and potential liability lie at the heart of pretty much every decision made in the world of insurance. With new form factors of cars being developed faster than we can keep up — I mean seriously, have you stood beside a Smart ForTwo? how is that not a higher risk car? — and means of propulsion evolving just as quickly, risk profiles are struggling to keep up.

Do you know what is currently considered to be one of the greatest risks attached to hybrid and electric cars? They don’t make enough noise. That’s right. Pedestrians are accustomed to listening for cars as much as they are to watching for them. You want to talk about liability, elevated risk profiles, and out of sight auto insurance premiums? Mow down a pedestrian and watch what happens. Hopefully the person you hit will live, but don’t expect your driving life to ever be quite the same again.

The U.S. Senate has no approved the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, which requires:

” . . . [a] minimum level of sound emitted from a motor vehicle that is necessary to provide blind and other pedestrians with the information needed to reasonably detect a nearby electric or hybrid vehicle operating at or below the cross-over speed.”

While the amount of sound required has yet to be determined, and experts say it could be two years before this law goes into effect with new standards in place, drivers of cars like the Volt, Leaf, and Prius may well consider adding one of what will undoubtedly be a plethora of after-market sound generators to their vehicles. This will undoubtedly become a potential means of lowering premiums on these makes and models. The insurance industry is well accustomed to granting discounts for safety devices, so this should be a no brainer.

In the meantime? If you drive a hybrid be very conscious of the fact that pedestrians can’t hear you. That awareness on your part is certainly to their benefit — and to your own.

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