Senate: Hybrids, Electric Cars Must Be Louder

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Congress may be in its lame duck season right now, where little traditionally gets done, but that hasn’t stopped the Senate from passing a historic food safety bill, or approving an extension on tax cuts and unemployment benefits.

Now, we can add one more bill to the list: the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act. It may not have earned quite as much buzz in the media as the debate over tax cuts, but this bill may soon make all our lives a little bit noisier.

This legislation, which was approved unanimously by the Senate on Friday, requires every car to emit a reasonable amount of sound so that pedestrians, particularly those who are blind, will be more aware of the cars around them.

Right about now, anyone who commutes is probably thinking that cars make enough sound as it is, but the legislation is particularly targeted at hybrid and electric cars, whose engines operate much more quietly than normal vehicles.

One government report last year found that hybrid cars were more likely to crash into pedestrians and bicyclists than other vehicles, particularly when those vehicles were moving at slow speeds, pulling out of driveways and parking spaces.

“I’m a major advocate of hybrids – I own one, I drive one, and I’ve seen firsthand their environmental and economic benefits,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the bill’s author, in a press release. “This legislation will allow us to continue to promote our energy independence and technological innovation, while safeguarding those who use senses other than sight to navigate the roads.”

Legislators have not set a minimum decibel of noise yet, as the bill must first go back to the House of Representatives for a final vote. But already this year, several companies are working to install special speakers in electric car engines that would broadcast sounds to mimic a normal car.

It is interesting that among the handful of other legislation passed by Senate recently is the CALM Act, which regulates the volume of commercials. Perhaps the secret to moving legislation forward in Congress during the lame duck season is to play up its noise component. So, to anyone who wants the START Treaty to pass, try writing  your state’s senators and inform them that if there are fewer nuclear weapons in the world, there will also be fewer explosions, making the world a quieter place for us all.

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