A low rumble from a combustion engine is one of the most obvious sounds on city streets. Pedestrians can certainly hear Harley Davidson motorcycles or eighteen wheelers passing close by, yet people cannot say the same for hybrid and battery-powered vehicles that hardly make a buzz when moving.
There is approximately one million hybrid gas-electric cars on U.S. roads; but only a few own artificial peripheral systems that generate sound alerts to pedestrians, cyclists, disabled people, children and the elderly as they approach.
When engine pistons bang and the warm rubber meets the road, pedestrians can hear regular vehicles approaching at 18 mph. The government believes battery-powered cars should produce a similar noise at particular speeds so folks will notice them.
Recent lawsuits claim battery-operated cars driving in covertness causes foreseeable collision damage and personal injury harm. The law may further consider electric cars without special pedestrian alert systems installed to be inherently dangerous when they cruise at low speeds.
Some automakers have affirmatively addressed the issue by adding sound-emitting devices to their vehicles that flip on when engines turn off.
Let’s examine how electric cars affect pedestrian accidents and discover why Sander Phipps Grossman has this issue on its radar.
Electric Cars Are Too Quiet
Noise at low speeds prevents cars from sneaking up on people.
Unlike traditional gas-powered automobiles, electric and hybrid vehicles use low-frequency electric propulsion systems to move. The forward motion arrangement is naturally quiet with an electrical motor sound falling between a purr and a whisper; hence, at low speeds, battery-powered vehicles are deliberately silent.
The University of California conducted experiments in 2008 that concluded electric vehicles hold higher percentage rates for running into pedestrians than gas-powered models.
Subjects wearing blindfolds in these trials could hear gas-powered Honda Accords approaching from as far away as thirty-six feet, but could only identify Toyota Prius’ advancing when they reached eleven feet. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) confirmed this information in 2011.
Pedestrian Accidents and Fatalities Rise Each Year
Automakers rushed to bring their battery-operated vehicles to market and forgot about pedestrian wellbeing.
After the turn of the century, electric vehicle sales rose considerably. The NHSTA soon after conducted inquiries from 2000 to 2008 across sixteen states and found 24,297 accidents involving hybrid vehicles or electric cars. Some caused fatalities while others produced injury and property damage.
Statistics further established—as electric cars became the norm, accidents rose exponentially—with forty percent of injuries and damage taking palace when battery-operated vehicles were moving straight forward, in plain sight, on public streets. Hybrid electric cars moving less than thirty-five miles per hour also hit pedestrians during low-speed maneuvering forty-eight percent of the time.
Now, keep in mind this data is ten years old when there were less than 25,000 battery-operated vehicles purchased in the US. In 2017, automakers sold over 750,000 hybrid cars to Americans—thirty times more than in 2008 or an increase of 3000%.
Lawyers can affirm the NHSTA’s findings by looking at later data raised by the GDC that shows quiet hybrids or electric cars were forty percent more prone to hit pedestrians in 2012 than vehicles with internal combustion engines.
The organization further discovered between 2012 and 2013 pedestrian personal injuries involving quiet cars increased fifty-four percent from the year before.
Pedestrian Accident Vulnerability Increases For The Visually Impaired.
Electric cars compromise the blind’s outdoor recreation safety.
Blind people who wish to cross public streets without harm rely on oncoming cars to produce minimal noise. Research proves nonetheless that hybrid vehicles must linger sixty-five percent closer to the visually impaired before these individuals can accurately determine vehicle direction.
Lawyers must, therefore, consider foreseeability when assessing electric car accident evidence for blind plaintiffs.
The courts hold drivers and carmakers liable for all direct consequences of their actions as long as part of the risk is foreseeable. Even if the harm is implausible, defendants are responsible because reasonable auto manufacturers or electric car drivers would have taken steps to prevent certain kinds of injury from materializing.
This means reliance on automobile sound for the visually impaired is reasonably foreseeable. Exculpatory injuries from electric cars hitting blind people at low impact are also far more dangerous than say striking people with vision who can mitigate damages by jumping out of the way.
When arguing from this angle, one can assert automakers’ endeavors to lessen noise pollution by making their hybrid cars quieter consequently placed blind people in foreseeable harm’s way.
Low-Speed Electric Car Collisions Can Cause Serious Bodily Injuries
The biomechanics of low-speed hybrid auto accidents is more complex than people imagine.
Low-speed personal injury accidents take place at velocities under 15 mph. Oftentimes, no visible property damage occurs and victims sometimes believe no bodily harm arises after electric cars strike them at nominal speed.
Low-speed accident victims, however, can suffer some rather meaningful and occasionally long-lasting bodily harm neck injuries or significant damage to spinal tissue. Studies show whiplash commonly develops in 3 mph collisions; so, when hybrid cars strike people at 10 to 15 mph, one can estimate the force victims endure is four to six times the threshold of an average neck injury.
Insurance adjusters frequently disregard low impact bodily injury claims and usually argue the absence of property damage establishes no serious harm befell onto plaintiffs.
Science nonetheless uses complex mixes of physics and biomechanics study to measure the effects of low-speed collisions on a person’s body; any claim that thereby equates bodily injury vehicle to property damage is in effect just speculative contention.
Insurance companies adopt this presumptuous defense to mitigate injuries suffered from low-velocity collisions and to frustrate novice attorneys. Sanders Phillips and Grossman recognize no minimum speed threshold exists where physical injuries can take place.
SPG takes the focus off electric car property damage by discrediting presumptuous photos and evidence that relates chattel loss to injury.
Government Response Was Too Slow
After eighteen years of deliberation, modern regulation forces electric cars to produce noise so pedestrians can see them coming.
Hybrid vehicles have been around since 2000, but it was only in 2010 that Congress established the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, calling for the NHTSA to determine electric vehicle safety requirements.
The NHTSA published a new policy the following year, requiring hybrid and electric vehicles to vent some “undesignated” noise when operating at slow speeds to warn pedestrians of approaching traffic danger.
This new statute specifically targeted blind pedestrians and others who found it difficult detecting an electric automobile’s presence, direction, and location on public roads.
Automakers were free to choose the audio noise, but sound designs needed to compensate for road and wind resistance and sufficiently announce an oncoming battery-operated vehicle in urban conditions.
Current Hybrid Auto Laws
Electric automakers must install accident-preventing noise devices in their products within the next two years.
Regulation today, recognized by auto manufacturers as the Quiet Car Rule (QCR), sanctions all hybrid vehicles running on electric motors, sold after September 2020, to generate artificial sounds between 40-90dB at speeds below 19 mph.
The QCR’s obscure guidelines further require automakers to place at least one external speaker in hybrid car chassis’ to “optimizes security,” however, audio may not contribute to “unnecessary noise pollution.”
The NHSTA expects the QCR will serve to alert visually impaired pedestrians and cyclists adequately and will prevent about 2,400 pedestrian injuries each year, once automakers properly equip their vehicles.
Personal Injury Lawsuits On The Horizon
Negligence and products liability authorities are gearing up for the legal battles that lie ahead.
Electric vehicles now match ordinary cars in momentum with most reaching 95mph and electric sports cars hitting 130mph. Thus, as battery-operated technology advances, car owners may naturally choose to drive faster.
Now, city cyclists rely on engine sound to safely change lanes; fast driving silent vehicles will thereby most likely place such actors in serious risk of harm.
Elderly folk and children likewise use auditory functions at road crossings; if battery operated vehicles approach these pedestrians at excessive speeds, with or without alerts systems roaring, serious harm, death, or property damage may develop.
Whether electric car accidents occur at slow speed or at higher velocities, victims can redress harm by filing the cause of actions under negligence or products liability theory.
Duty: Motorists are culpable for their actions behind the wheel. Electric and hybrid drivers hold a duty of care to be super-vigilant when cruising in metropolitan areas with heavy pedestrian movement.
Breach: If motorists know their later model hybrid vehicle does not carry audible alert systems, they’ll breach their duty of care if they unreasonably navigate in hybrid mode through crowds of people or near cyclist without giving signs of their presence.
Concrete buildings may further mask warning frequencies from modern electric vehicles in crowded downtown areas. Hence, NHSTA-compliant hybrid automobiles may likewise impose considerable harm on folks like city joggers, pedestrians wearing headphones and the handicapped.
This means drivers who own battery-operated cars with up-to-date pedestrian alert systems may likewise breach their duty of care if they neglect to stay extra observant while navigating through in urban areas as well.
Causation: Negligence occurs when defendants breach duties to take reasonable care and cause foreseeable damages. Sanders Phillips Grossman simplifies proximate cause arguments in electric car personal injury lawsuits thorough asserting the defendant’s reasonable unreadiness was the superseding cause of the loss.
Damages: Negligent acts require actual harm to become compensatory under a negligence theory. Electric car accident victims, who prove duty, breach, and causation, may seek general damages to redress their pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life or limbs.
The courts likewise award personal injury plaintiffs special compensatory damages to remedy their out-of-pocket expenses connected to the accident, typically medical bill or lost wages reimbursements.
Pedestrians and cyclists and electric vehicle owners as well may alternatively seek out products liability expert attorneys like Sanders Phillips Grossman to litigate cause of actions against automakers.
SPG attorneys can successfully prove battery-operated automobiles were unreasonably dangerous due to defects in design when they left the carmaker’s control. Products liability lawsuits are easier to litigate because plaintiffs do not have to prove fault by the automakers.
Design Flaws: Automakers should have foreseen the risks in allowing inaudible electric cars to enter the stream of commerce.
Documentation further exists that shows the auto industry has run into trouble designing NHTSA-complaint pedestrian alerts that identify electric vehicle position and approaching direction.
Pedestrian alerts at lower frequencies also bounce off of concrete buildings and higher tones cause driver distraction.
Sanders Phillips Grossman wins products liability lawsuits by asserting automakers used substandard technology and workmanship in their pedestrian alert system engineering, which placed inherently dangerous products into the marketplace and put pedestrians and property in dangerous risk without warning.
Liability Burdens: One reason why people buy electric vehicles is that automakers promise their quiet drivetrains generate minimal noise. Car dealers further expressly warrant that hybrid car owners can enjoy reductions in stress levels and pleasurable driving experiences on busy urban streets from engine sound absence.
These consumer expectations and express warranties, therefore, place excessive burdens on auto manufacturers to establish their products were NOT defective by making them silent.
Automakers React With Haste
The hybrid car industry contracts third-party innovators to bring their vehicles into compliance.
Chevrolet, Ford, BMW, Fiat, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Tesla and Volkswagen manufacture most electric vehicles found in the United States.
Some automakers have contracted companies like Enhanced Vehicle Acoustics and Fisker Automotive to work out their NHTSA-complaint pedestrian warning systems.
Most designs have electric vehicles emitting traditional combustion engine noise when operating in battery mode while cruising through slow traffic, which shuts off immediately when the automobile exceeds twenty miles per hour.
Other contractors place tiny audio speakers inside wheel cylinders for producing detailed directional sounds. Yet, these sound waves travel only in straightforward paths.
Nissan’s Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians (VSP) is a manual warning sound system that drivers can turn on or off from the cockpit. VSP produces high-frequency warning sounds outside the automobile without distracting individuals inside the car.