Are Hybrids Too Quiet?

As fuel costs continue to climb, so does the popularity of hybrid automobiles. But as more of these gas-sipping cars and trucks begin to populate our roadways, a new challenge has arisen, one that most carmakers could never have anticipated. Apparently, hybrid cars do not make enough driving noise to make there presence known, inadvertently creating a danger for blind people and young children at play. In electric mode, the stealth nature of hybrid vehicles makes it difficult for blind pedestrians crossing the street to detect their approach. Ironically, the quietness of hybrid cars is often cited by buyers as one the most attractive features of these vehicles.

The threat of low-noise vehicles has become large enough that the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is now lobbying for legislation that requires manufacturers to address this issue by implementing some kind of artificial noisemaking device within the otherwise low-amplitude hybrid powertrain. The NFB is also pushing to pass laws which would raise and standardize minimum noise levels coming from these types of cars. Bills for such legislation are already in play in states like Maryland and California. “As we increase the number of quiet vehicles on our streets, we increase the risk that blind and other pedestrians face,” argued Jim McCarthy, the National Federation of the Blind’s director of government affairs, at a hearing in front of the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “We potentially lose our independence if these become ubiquitous.”

With all the other challenges green motoring has faced with regards to costs, efficiency, and emissions, this is no doubt a refreshing twist in the ongoing drama. Though there has been some initial resistance on this issue from automakers, hopefully there is a happy-medium to be found. One that preserves the quiet characteristics of hybrids while still making the roads safer for pedestrians.