Do hybrid cars kill you with silence?

This summer, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration will begin creating guidelines for the minimum amount of noise a car engine can emit -- at lower speeds hybrid and electric cars cause too many accidents.

Audi Screenshot Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

The first time you get into a hybrid car, it can be quite eerie.

Not merely because of the peculiar sanctimoniousness of its owner, but because when it comes to a halt, there seems to be no engine sound. At first, you think it's stalled. Then you realize that cannot be. So your innards have to train themselves for this odd sensation.

However, it seems conclusive now that this little lamb's silence is proving to be somewhat injurious.

As a very fine analysis in Slate tells me, at speeds under 35 mph, hybrids and electric cars are 37 percent more likely to hit pedestrians and 66 percent more likely to hit cyclists than normal gas-guzzling machines.

However, the hybrids' silent factor has become so difficult that the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration is being forced, by this summer, to begin creating rules that will stipulate the minimum noise enjoyed by any car on the road.

Yes, oh newly minted Facebook millionaire, your new Tesla may have to be a little noisier.

It's odd that the auto industry seems to have been very slow in adopting a little noise. Honda patented a simulated noise generator in 1994.

And yet nothing happened, other than quite a few accidents.

Toyota began in 2010 to create a little almost cartoonish noise (video embedded below), one that now exists in the 2012 Prius.

But perhaps the most fascinating attempts in this area come from Audi and the development of its 2012 R8 eTron electric sports car (video embedded above). Audi worked with a music composer for three years in order to come up with a sound that some might find reminds them of, well, a sports car.

By 2017, every hybrid and electric car will legally have to have a noisemaker installed. I wonder if some car maker will come up with an entirely new noise. Somewhere between say, the Batmobile and the collected works of Kraftwerk. Now that would be fun.

 

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