Bipartisan Ped Safety Amendment Hitches a Ride on House Auto Bill

The House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday advanced an auto safety bill aimed at strengthening U.S. DOT regulators’ hands in the aftermath of Toyota’s recall debacle. Despite Republican complaints that the legislation would impose too many new costs on the car industry, bipartisan support emerged readily for an amendment focused on pedestrian safety.

Cliff_Stearns.jpgRep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) (Photo:

Offered by Reps. Ed Towns (D-NY) and Cliff Stearns (R-FL), the amendment would require makers of hybrid and electric cars, which often produce little to no sound when traveling at low speeds, to include an alert noise as a precaution for nearby pedestrians and cyclists.

The silent-cars amendment tracks with conclusions reached this month by automakers and advocates for the blind, many of whom were long concerned about already-impaired pedestrians’ ability to guard against the presence of a semi-silent oncoming vehicle.

A September study [PDF] conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the crash risk to pedestrians from cars traveling at low speeds was twice as high for hybrids as for combustion-engine models. The study also concluded that the likelihood of crashes at road intersections involving cyclists were "significantly higher" for hybrids than for conventionally powered cars.

“As the popularity of hybrid and green cars continues
to grow, the audibility of these vehicles at low speeds poses serious safety
concerns,” Towns said in a statement on his and Stearns’ proposal. The broader auto-safety bill is expected to come to a vote in the full House later this year.

  • Abe

    …or motorists could try looking out and stopping if a pedestrian is in their path.

  • Alex B.

    Minnesota has a law that requires drivers to yield to a pedestrian in any uncontrolled crosswalk. When I mentioned it to a group of people last month not a single person had heard of it. Probably beeping Priuses are the answer.

  • JJ

    Alex B., most states give unmarked crosswalks the save legal standing as a marked one. very few people know it. When someone complains about jaywalking, ask if the person was ACRUALLY jaywalking, or if the complainee just doesnt know the law.

    This is most problematic at T intersections.

    As for the law, its needed. I was recently walking my dog down the middle of a residential street (no sidewalks) and a prius snuck up behind me. I had no clue she was right there, because you can usually hear a car a block away. Fortunately, she had the courtesy not to honk, even though a tap would have been appropriate.

    The cars need to hum, not beep. You know, the futuristic jetsons woosh type of deal.

  • The House Committee amendment has added extra language. It adds a ‘study’ to do the same for all cars after the NHTSA is directed to “Bell the Hybrid.”

    The sad thing is the lack of pedestrian accident rates per hybrid vehicle showing there is a problem. In fact, we know the Prius has half the fatality rate of all USA vehicles using the NHTSA Fatality Analysis Reporting System database (see URL.) Other NHTSA reports have shown pickup truck and SUVs are over represented in back-over pedestrian accidents and likely all pedestrian accidents. Yet the advocates of “Bell the Hybrid” are blind to these injuries and deaths.

    This legislation lacks credible facts and data showing a hybrid risk. But to make sure none are injected, it limits who is allowed to comment and excludes today’s one million hybrid owners and the 5,000 pedestrian deaths each year. They are trying to remove a ‘mote’ while ignoring the much larger numbers of pedestrian deaths and hybrid owners.

    Bob Wilson, Huntsville AL

  • John Williams

    In my experience, using the phrase “jaywalking” is a hint that a person thinks s/he knows traffic law but probably doesn’t. Typically, state codes allow pedestrians to cross between intersections after yielding to traffic. A common limitation found in traffic law restricts crossing between two adjacent signalized intersections.

    As for crossing in marked or unmarked crosswalks, pedestrians don’t have to stand on the curb and wait until every car goes by. The rule is generally put this way: “pedestrian may not suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close that it is impossible for the operator to yield.”

    John W.


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