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NHTSA to require noise standards for hybrid vehicles

Hybrid vehicles have a lot of benefits. Because they get much better gas mileage than traditional vehicles, hybrids are excellent both for the environment and for their owners' pocketbooks. However, they also pose a unique danger that many people are not aware of - because hybrid engines are so quiet, pedestrians and cyclists often cannot hear them, making car accidents that much more likely. The risk is even higher for individuals with visual impairments who rely on their sense of sound to let them know when vehicles are approaching.

In response to this problem, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has introduced new rules that would require hybrid vehicles to emit a minimum level of noise when travelling at speeds below 18 mph. Above this speed, the vehicles make enough noise on their own to be detectible to most pedestrians and cyclists.

Under the rule, vehicle manufacturers would be given significant latitude to choose which sounds to use. The NHTSA has created some guidelines, including a requirement that vehicles of the same make and model have the same sound or set of sounds. The rule may actually be an opportunity for automakers to brand their vehicles with particular sounds, especially because there is no requirement that the vehicles mimic the sounds of a combustion engine.

The rule is being promulgated in response to a requirement in the federal Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010. The NHTSA estimates that implementing the new rule could prevent approximately 2,800 pedestrian and cyclist injuries during each vehicle model year.

Virginia pedestrian and bicycle accidents

Pedestrian and bicycle accidents are a huge problem, both in Virginia and throughout the United States. According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, 75 pedestrians were killed and another 1,700 were injured in crashes in Virginia in 2011. The DMV also reported 749 bicycle crashes in 2011, though its data does not specify what percentage of those accidents were caused by vehicle drivers.

Hopefully the NHTSA's new hybrid noise rules will make an impact on Virginia's pedestrian and bicycle accident rates. However, the inability to perceive approaching hybrid vehicles is but a very small part of a much larger issue. Most accidents in which pedestrians or cyclists are hit by cars can be traced back to negligence on the part of the vehicle driver.

All drivers have a duty to share the road with pedestrians and cyclists and to help them stay safe. This means driving free of distractions and intoxicating substances as well as paying special attention near crosswalks and on bike routes.

When crashes do happen, it is important for injured victims to understand their rights. Virginia law allows people who have been injured by negligent drivers to pursue personal injury lawsuits. These lawsuits can provide financial compensation for a number of losses, including medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering. If you or a loved one has been injured after being hit by a car in Virginia, an experienced personal injury attorney can review your case and help you understand your options for moving forward.

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