HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's been barely two years since fully electric vehicles have been sold by major car manufacturers in Hawaii. But the new technology has led to a modern safety problem: the cars may be too quiet.
Hybrid and electric vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius, the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt, have gained in popularity as the technology has gotten better and gasoline prices have gotten higher. And the green cars are 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 Prius.
According to Ching, Toyota hybrids already have what it calls the Vehicle Proximity Notification System. "So when the engine is not using its gasoline engine – it's in electric mode – and it's going roughly less than 25 kilometers an hour, which is about 15 miles an hour, or less, the vehicles make a sound," he said.
The Toyota makes a whirring electronic sound. Other electric vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf, have similar sound-making systems to address safety concerns, especially regarding blind or visually-impaired pedestrians. The U.S. Department of Transportation has released proposed rules that would require all new hybrids and electrics to make a sound.
"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 that would be noise pollution.
"The beauty of an electric car is (that) an electric motor is much more efficient, and so energy isn't wasted in the form of noise," said Piscioneri. "And that's really the direction that we want to go."
Servco said that hybrids already make up 20 percent of its vehicle sales. And there will likely be more electric and hybrid vehicles hitting the road.
The DOT says the public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed rule. Meanwhile, none of the local car dealers Hawaii News Now talked to reported any of its hybrid or electric vehicle owners having any near-misses or accidents because of their quiet cars.