Electric cars making noise? Local dealers say some already do

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hybrid and electric vehicles have gained in popularity in Hawaii and elsewhere as the technology has gotten better and gasoline prices have gotten higher.

The green cars area also a lot quieter than their gasoline counterparts. "Which most people would say is a good thing, but of course safety first, regarding pedestrians or bicyclists, or anyone who might be around a plug-in electric," said Rick Ching, executive vice president at Servco Automotive, which sells the Toyota Prius hybrid.

According to Ching, Toyota hybrids already have what it calls a Vehicle Proximity Notification System. "So when the vehicle is not using its gasoline engine -- it's in electric mode -- and going roughly less than 25 kilometers an hour, which is about 15 miles an hour, or less, the vehicle makes a sound.

The Toyota notification system makes a whirring electric noise. Other electric cars, like the Nissan Leaf, have similar noise-producing systems, developed especially for the safety of blind and visually impaired pedestrians. But the U.S. Department of Transportation wants to require all new hybrids and electrics to make a sound. It says the rule could prevent thousands of injuries every year.

"It seems odd to me that this is the first time I can think of where the government is proposing that we add pollution to a new technology," said Mark Piscioneri of the Electric Vehicle Association of Honolulu. He said it would be noise pollution.

"The beauty of an electric car is an electric motor is much more efficient," said Piscioneri. "And so energy isn't wasted in the form of noise. and that's really the direction that we want to go."

Servco Automotive said hybrids already make up 20 percent of its vehicle sales. And that proportion could go up, meaning more electric cars and hybrids will be hitting the road.

The DOT said the public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed rule. Meanwhile, none of the local car dealerships contacted by Hawaii News Now reported any of its electric or hybrid vehicle owners having any accidents or near-misses because of their quiet cars.

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