In a world of loud, combustion engines that pollute the air with fumes as well as sound, having a quieter and more eco-friendly alternative seems like just the fix. Electric vehicles have been around for a long time, but have recently been gaining more popularity as technology advances. While electric vehicles have many benefits to us and the world around us, they also have some safety concerns to consider just as with any other vehicle on the road. A silent car, in theory, sounds like a good idea, but consider that we, as a society, have grown accustomed to making judgments off the noises of the road. We can hear cars approaching before we even see them. If a car is silent in its approach, unsuspecting pedestrians, bicyclists, and even other drivers may not understand or notice quickly enough that there is a car cruising toward them.
What is the importance of vehicles making a sound?
The sound of a running engine is something that we have grown accustomed to ever since the automobile was first created. If we hear an engine, we know that there must be a car nearby, and we are likely to look around and see where this possible threat is coming from. However, the New Yorker points out that the noise of so many internal combustion engines on the road has created a type of pollution, called sound pollution, that people in cities have become accustomed to.
With the development and rising popularity of electric vehicles, an interesting discovery was made: electric vehicles generally run silently, and while this cuts down on the sound pollution, it also creates a threat to pedestrians and others around. With how ingrained reacting to the sound of an approaching vehicle has become in society, now that silent cars are on the road, we are more likely to not even notice if a car is approaching. And that’s extremely dangerous. Lawrence D. Rosenblum, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, researched how the brain will pay special attention to approaching sounds, and how it will automatically calculate what Rosenblum calls “time-to-arrival.”
According to the New Yorker, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted study and research on electric vehicles, with a follow-up report in October, 2011. The reports showed that “hybrids and E.V.s had a thirty-five percent greater likelihood of accidents with pedestrians, and a fifty percent greater likelihood of accidents with cyclists.” Many of these incidents happened not on roads, but in places where there was an increased likelihood of cars turning and reversing, such as parking lots and driveways.
Because of the dangers these silent vehicles pose, Congress passed The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act. This act called for a “sound or set of sounds for all vehicles of the same make and model,” with the president signing it into law on January 4, 2011.
New Yorker editor and writer John Seabrook details what The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act is meant to do:
In response to this threat, Congress passed the 2010 Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, a law that few Americans paid attention to at the time, and that took almost ten years to implement. As a result of the legislation, every E.V. and hybrid manufactured since 2020 and sold in the U.S. must come equipped with a pedestrian-warning system, also known as an acoustic vehicle alerting system (avas), which emits noises from external speakers when the car is traveling below eighteen and a half miles per hour. (Similar regulations apply in Europe and Asia.)
The act also allows automakers to craft their own branded alerts, so long as they meet certain specifications.
Dangers of silent autonomous vehicles
With electric vehicles being far more likely to be also outfitted with autonomous driving technology, risks are compounded as more and more people take the auto-piloting functions for granted. Drivers of electric vehicles may not be as alert to the road as those who have to be in complete control of their vehicle at all times.
Securing America’s Future Energy, or SAFE, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing oil dependency, found that “58 percent of autonomous, light-duty vehicle retrofits and models are built over an electric powertrain, while a further 21 percent utilize a hybrid powertrain.”
In 2021, automakers reported almost 400 crashes of vehicles with partially automated driver-assist systems. 273 of those car accidents involved Teslas. As we can see, electric vehicles and autonomous driving technology are not infallible, and can still cause and be involved in accidents.
Advanced-driver assist systems (ADAS technology) does not need input from the driver in order to brake, steer, and accelerate. The car itself controls them. While the driver should remain actively focused on the road and traffic, many drivers are beginning to find a false sense of security and comfort with the addition of ADAS technology. This means there are drivers who are not actively paying attention to their driving, and if an emergency arises (such as a pedestrian crossing the street or a bicyclist swerving into traffic), and the technology fails, the driver may not be able to take control of the vehicle before tragedy strikes
We aren’t saying that we don’t support electric vehicles. They appear to be the more conscientious option when it comes to cars; however, that does not mean they are 100% safe. These vehicles are silent, and that can lead to disaster if the driver and/or the victim of the accident are not paying attention. And that is more likely to happen with autonomous technology becoming more prominent especially in electric vehicles.
If you have been in an accident with an electric or autonomous vehicle, make sure to reach out to a car accident attorney. At Philbrook Law Office, we work to ensure that the right evidence is gathered to prove that the at-fault driver was negligent, and that you will recover the compensation you deserve for your pain, suffering, hospital costs, and income loss. To schedule an appointment, call us at 360-695-3309 or fill out our contact form. We proudly serve the communities of Vancouver WA, and Battle Ground.
Founding Attorney Matthew Philbrook attended Clark College, Washington State University, and Gonzaga University School of Law. He is a member of the Washington State and Oregon State Bar Associations and started Philbrook Law Office in 2005. He specializes in Personal Injury, DUI and Criminal Defense cases. Learn more about Mr. Philbrook.