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: 2.bp.blogspot.com)

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.