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Are Electric Vehicles a Safety Hazard?

January 10, 2022

electric vehicles

Traditional gas-powered cars emit a significant amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are harmful to the environment. They also contribute to noise pollution, particularly in urban areas where there are significantly more cars and trucks on the roads. In an effort to reduce the air and sound pollution that is associated with gas-powered vehicles, a growing number of car manufacturers are coming out with hybrid and electric vehicles. Electric vehicles are responsible for considerably lower emissions over the lifetime of the car. In addition, they make very little noise and are virtually silent when they are traveling at slower speeds. 

However, while good for the environment, the fact that they make very little noise means that pedestrians and other drivers may not hear the vehicle approaching. This can be dangerous, particularly in urban areas where there are more pedestrians and drivers sharing the roads.

According to two studies from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), electric vehicles may pose a significant safety risk for pedestrians who may not hear the vehicle approaching as they are walking along city streets or entering an intersection. One study examined 77 accidents that involved hybrid vehicles. While the sample size was relatively small, there was a 40 percent increase in pedestrian accidents compared to gas-powered vehicles. The second study looked at accident data from 16 states. They found a 35 percent increase in pedestrian accidents involving electric vehicles. The majority of these accidents occurred at low speeds. 

In 2018, electric vehicle sales were up over 80 percent compared to the previous year. In addition, as the technology continues to evolve and the demand continues to grow, manufacturers have been able to sell electric and hybrid vehicles for a more affordable price. As the trend toward electric vehicles is expected to grow, manufacturers and safety officials will need to consider some of the safety hazards associated with these vehicles, particularly the dangers that they pose to pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers.

What Makes Electric Cars Dangerous?

One of the major benefits of electric cars also happens to be a significant safety issue. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), noise pollution can be just as harmful to one’s health as air pollution, and vehicle engines and horns are a major contributor to noise pollution, particularly in busy cities and on congested highways during heavy traffic. 

Hybrid and electric cars are much quieter and do not emit harmful greenhouse gases. However, when an electric vehicle is traveling below 20 miles per hour, they are virtually silent. This can actually be quite dangerous if a pedestrian does not hear the vehicle approaching and starts to cross an intersection. A recent study found that electric vehicles also present potentially serious safety hazards to blind pedestrians since they rely heavily on sound to navigate their environment, including crossing busy intersections. Even if the vehicle is going 20 miles per hour or slower, a pedestrian can suffer serious, even fatal injuries when hit by a car.

How Can Electric Vehicles Be Made Safer?

One way to combat this issue is to make electric vehicles louder, particularly when they are traveling at slower speeds. Effective 2020, the NHTSA requires all electric cars to be outfitted with an artificial sound machine. When electric vehicles are traveling above 20 miles per hour, the noise from the tire friction, as well as other aerodynamic factors, generates sound. However, this is not the case when they are driving at a slow speed. By adding artificial sounds to electric vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers are more likely to hear the vehicle approaching, even at slow speeds. 

However, according to researchers from Pennsylvania State University and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, adding sound to electric vehicles is not necessarily a perfect solution. Study participants sat near a lane at the Institute’s Smart Road facility, where they were asked to press a button when they could hear the electric vehicle approaching. This gave researchers the opportunity to measure the probability of detection compared to the distance from the vehicle, which is an important factor in evaluating safety. In all of the cases, the mean detection ranges exceeded the NHTSA minimum detection distances. However, even at close range, there were cases where probability of detection never reached 100 percent. The added sounds made the vehicles more detectable compared to the vehicles that did not have artificial sound added, but pedestrians missed detections in some cases.

How Can Electric Car Accidents Involving Pedestrians Be Prevented?

Whether you are driving an electric vehicle or you are a pedestrian trying to cross a busy intersection, you are responsible for using extreme caution when navigating busy streets and multi-lane intersections where vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians are sharing the road. If you are behind the wheel of any type of vehicle, you are expected to obey the rules of the road and make safety a top priority to avoid a car accident. If your car is an electric vehicle, you should be aware of the fact that the car is difficult for pedestrians to hear the car approaching if you are driving below 25 miles per hour. 

If you are a pedestrian, you also have a responsibility to make sure that there are no vehicles approaching before crossing an intersection. In addition, if you are distracted by a phone call or a text, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or you did not look both ways before crossing the street or a busy intersection, the driver of the car that hit you may not be held liable for the accident. 

What Are Examples of Common Pedestrian Injuries?

Even if an electric or hybrid vehicle is traveling at a relatively slow speed, a pedestrian can suffer very serious injuries since there is nothing protecting them from the force of the impact. The following are examples of common pedestrian injuries:

  • Soft tissue injuries: These include cuts, scrapes, dislocations, and sprains. In most cases, they do not require major medical intervention and will eventually heal on their own. 
  • Broken bones: These are among the most common types of pedestrian injury due to the extreme force of impact from the vehicle. These are very painful and require medical treatment to properly set and cast the broken bone and rule out any other injuries.
  • Spinal cord injuries: A sudden traumatic blow from a car can cause serious spinal cord injuries, including fractures and disclosed vertebrae. These injuries require immediate medical attention. Depending on the nature and severity of the injury, it can result in partial or complete paralysis.
  • Amputations: If an injury to the arm, leg or other extremity is so severe that it cannot be repaired, it may be necessary to amputate the affected limb.
  • Brain injuries: Even slow-moving car accidents can cause brain injuries when the force of the impact causes brain dysfunction. Depending on the severity of the injury, the consequences can range from minor to debilitating. Oftentimes, they require ongoing treatment and long-term care.
  • Emotional trauma: A severe injury can be extremely traumatic, particularly when it leaves you with permanent physical or cognitive impairments. In some cases, the accident may cause you to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In order to cope with the trauma and develop effective tools to work through it, it is highly recommended that you seek professional help from a skilled therapist or psychologist. If necessary, they may prescribe medication to help manage symptoms of depression or anxiety. 
  • Death: Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for pedestrians to suffer fatal injuries if they are hit by a car. Even a slow-moving electric car can cause devastating fatalities if a pedestrian steps onto the street or crosses an intersection because they did not hear an electric vehicle approaching. 

Virginia Beach Car Accident Lawyers Advocate for Clients Injured in Electric Car Accidents

If you have been seriously injured in a car accident involving an electric vehicle, you are urged to contact one of our Virginia Beach car accident lawyers. You can contact our legal team at East Coast Trial Lawyers at your earliest convenience. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 757-352-2237 or contact us online. Located in Virginia Beach, we serve clients throughout Chesapeake, Eastern Shore, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk, Virginia, as well as North Carolina and nationwide. 

Areas We Serve

Our law firm proudly serves clients injured anywhere in Virginia or North Carolina on personal injury claims, including cases with traumatic brain injury, spinal and neck injury, wrongful death, and more serious injuries. As Virginia Beach personal injury attorneys with many years experience, our team of lawyers will be ready to fight for you. If you were injured on the job, our Virginia Beach Workers Compensation lawyers are ready to serve you.

Call 757-352-2237 or fill out the online contact form for a free consultation about your personal injury, workers compensation, or other attorney services. Our firm adopts a team approach to every case, so while one primary lawyer will be assigned to your case, you have the benefit of an experienced team of lawyers, all working on your side. We are located in Virginia Beach, VA, and serve clients who were injured anywhere in Virginia or North Carolina.

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