The U.S. government's top vehicle safety advocate is concerned about distracted drivers, electrified vehicles being too quiet, and the benefits of vehicle-to-vehicle communications.
"A quieter fleet could potentially put pedestrians at risk, especially blind pedestrians," David Strickland, NHTSA (U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety) Administrator, said during a keynote address on April 15 at the SAE 2010 World Congress in Detroit.
The agency's analysis of data from 12 states showed that "hybrid-electric vehicles do have a significantly higher incidence rate of pedestrian crashes [when compared to] internal-combustion-engine vehicles for certain maneuvers—such as slowing or stopping, backing up, entering or leaving a parking space, and making a turn," said Strickland.
NHTSA is now assessing how electrified vehicles might be required to emit a base level sound at low speeds so that pedestrians could hear the approaching vehicle. "We think that to be effective, this 'sound' has to be readily identifiable as a vehicle," Strickland said.
The agency's budget proposal for 2011 includes a request for $50 million in incentive grant monies to encourage states to pass distracted-driving laws. If Congress approves the request, the monies could support law enforcement activities similar to those in Syracuse, NY, and Hartford, CT.
"We just kicked off a two-year federally funded pilot program [in those two cities] to test the effectiveness of highly publicized law enforcement efforts to change drivers' behaviors and get them to put down their cell phones," Strickland said.
NHTSA is also investigating the safety benefits of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications. Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai-Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen, and NHTSA are in the second year of a four-year program aimed at determining the effectiveness of safety systems that use V2V communications.
"This project will ensure that vehicle communications are interoperable across all vehicles regardless of make or model. The effort also will help us determine the minimum performance levels and safety impact of safety applications enabled by V2V," said Strickland.