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Auto safety bill would require 'alert sounds' for quiet hybrid, electric cars

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By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 26, 2010; 5:11 PM

A "quiet ride" was once a mark of automotive quality. But the advent of hybrid and electric vehicles, which are particularly quiet at low speeds, has raised the possibility that cars could become silent killers.

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On Wednesday, a House committee approved an auto safety bill that calls for hybrid and electric cars to be equipped with "alert sounds" that would "allow the pedestrian to reasonably detect a nearby electric or hybrid vehicle."

The measure is part of a broader auto safety bill that was approved 31 to 21 by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It now goes to the full House, where lawmakers are expected to take action later this year.

"I had a personal experience in a parking lot when I did not hear an approaching vehicle," said Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), who pushed the measure with Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.). "This amendment looks for a way to prevent avoidable injuries and deaths without onerous and untenable requirements on vehicle manufacturers."

Although some electric car makers say that adding noises to the cars will detract from the experience, Nissan, one of the leaders in electric car technology, has begun experimenting with chimes, melodies and whirrings that could be added to its forthcoming Leaf.

A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last year found that in some situations hybrid electric vehicles are two times more likely to be involved in a pedestrian crash than a conventional car.

The measure was advocated in part with support from the blind.

"We're thrilled," said John G. Pare, executive director for Strategic Initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind. "After 2 1/2 years, this is finally coming to fruition."

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