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Will Europe Too Write Rules To Make Quiet Electric Cars Noisier?

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Lotus Safe & Sound noisemaker

Lotus Safe & Sound noisemaker

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This one just isn't going to go away, is it?

A member of the UK parliament is set to raise concerns that electric cars are "a new threat" to pedestrians due to their low levels of noise.

Mary Glindon, Labour Party constituent in North Tyneside, cites statistics from the Guide Dogs charity that from 2010-2012, there were 237 hybrid and electric car collisions involving pedestrians--a number 25 percent higher than expected given the low proportion of electric and hybrid vehicles to others on the road.

According to The Journal, Mrs Glindon says car companies must do more to make electric and hybrid cars audible to pedestrians--particularly for the visually-impaired.

"If the Government is paying [$1.3 million in subsidies] to promote these vehicles, they should first make sure that they are safe to pedestrians" she said. Glindon wants to push the message that sound generators are vital for the safety of all pedestrians.

The irony is that Glindon's constituency in the North East of England relies heavily on electric cars--not so much in terms of transport, but because one of the biggest regional employers is Nissan, whose nearby plant is one of only three global plants producing the all-electric Leaf.

The MP says she's a big supporter of the company--and the 6,000 people it employs across the region--but still feels companies need to act on their vehicles' lack of noise.

Inconclusive evidence?

While the injury statistics are some of the most convincing we've seen for EV and hybrid pedestrian collisions--and preventing pedestrian injuries is certainly an important cause--the numbers still don't seem to tell the whole story.

The biggest issue is the weighting of these statistics. While comparing them proportionally to other vehicles tells an interesting story, it neglects a rather important caveat. Pedestrian collisions are most likely in cities. Cities are also the ideal stomping ground for electric and hybrid vehicles.

Don't see the connection? It means that you're more likely to be struck by an electric car or hybrid in the city because there's a greater proportion of EVs and hybrids where you'll find the most pedestrians. Take a trip to London and Toyota Prius are everywhere--yet they're nowhere near as common a sight elsewhere. The Guide Dogs statistics don't take this into account, making it look like injuries from quiet cars are higher.

Then there's the continued lack of truly conclusive evidence. One charity's results suggest the lack of noise is a problem, yet other surveys show it isn't.

Who do you believe? And if you choose one over the other to base policy on, why? As is often the case, educating drivers and pedestrians seems like a preferable path than implementing policy--particularly one that would harm one of the electric car's greatest benefits, lack of noise.

It remains to be seen how the UK parliament will act on the issue. In the meantime, both drivers and pedestrians need to take responsibility themselves--by driving and walking accordingly where one interacts with the other.

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