HYBRID CARS MIGHT be great for the environment and for fewer trips to your neighborhood gas station, but as a state senator from Long Beach points out, there is a hidden potential for injury particularly to those who are blind or visually impaired. These vehicles don't make any noise and that's a problem.

Sen. Alan Lowenthal is pushing a bill aimed at ensuring that hybrid vehicles make enough noise to be heard by the blind and visually impaired, as well as unaware pedestrians or bicyclists who count on hearing automobiles when riding on busy streets. Lowenthal's bill makes sense.

After the Senate recently approved the bill 23-12, it now sits on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk for approval. If Schwarzenegger signs on, the bill would establish a committee to study the issue and recommend ways these vehicles make more noise, and those recommendations would be due by 2010.

This is a bill that should be taken under serious consideration especially with the growing popularity of hybrids; there are 248,000 gas-electric hybrid vehicles and 89,000 all-electric vehicles registered in California.

While there's no statistical information currently available on pedestrian accidents involving hybrid or electric vehicles, we can easily imagine problems down the road.


Advertisement

Obviously, visually-impaired people rely greatly on their hearing sense when crossing a street, and not every corner's light signals contain chirping noises to help those who cannot see, so think of the potential danger when a quiet hybrid suddenly makes a turn as someone enters the crosswalk. Even bicyclists and pedestrians who have good hearing could be caught off-guard by a vehicle that doesn't make noise.

Actually, Lowenthal was beaten to the punch by a bill in Congress in April and supported by the National Federation of the Blind.

Meanwhile, a study is under way at the University of California, Riverside and preliminary results show potential risk. Hybrids operating a slow speeds must be 40 percent closer to pedestrians than combustion-engine vehicles before they make enough noise for their location to be detected.

Finally, we're seeing a bill that is anticipating trouble before it arrives. We recommend the governor to sign Lowenthal's bill. Let's make things safer for a new generation of automobiles.