David Strickland thinks hybrids may be too quiet for safety.
"A quieter fleet could potentially put pedestrians at risk, especially blind pedestrians," Strickland said at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress.
Which means hybrid owners may soon be looking at artificial noise makers installed onto their cars. Strickland, as head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), will most likely back up any claims with requirements for all vehicles. Electric and hybrid cars, which run on electric power at low speeds, make little to no noise.
"NHTSA is currently conducting a research program on quieter cars and the safety of blind pedestrians. Our analysis of limited data from 12 states shows that hybrid electric vehicles do have a significantly higher incidence rate of pedestrian crashes than internal combustion engines for certain maneuvers -- like slowing or stopping, backing up, entering or leaving a parking space, and making a turn."
"I am challenging the auto industry and the cell phone industry to work collaboratively with us to keep the driver focused on their required task: driving."
It should be noted that not everyone thinks silent running is the problem, however. Amy Freeland, an investigator with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that most of the fatal encounters occurred when the hybrids were going faster than 35 mph.
"There's a piece we don't know about this," says Amy. "And I think that may be market distribution." She suspects -- but can't yet prove -- that people who drive in crowded areas with high pedestrian traffic, like cities or beach towns, are more likely to drive hybrids. More pedestrians means more chances of a pedestrian accident.