By Ashley Halsey III
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Common wisdom holds that an automobile's piston engine can purr, rattle or — particularly in the movies — explode.
While the U.S. secretary of transportation would rather your engine do the former than the latter, he believes that a car in motion ought to make enough noise to be noticed.
"This proposal will help keep everyone using our nation's streets and roadways safe, whether they are motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians, and especially the blind and visually impaired," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.
He is worried that electric and hybrid vehicles can sneak up on people without warning, putting walkers and bikers at risk. He endorsed a proposal from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that would require vehicles capable of moving in stealth to make enough noise so that people can sense them coming.
LaHood, who walks when he can and likes to ride his bicycle, joined a conversation among pedestrian and cycling advocates this week.
"I've heard that talked about at conferences in the past, but I haven't seen any evidence of it here yet," said Jim Sebastian, who coordinates the District of Columbia's bicycle programs.
Vigorous efforts to make Washington a safe city for walking and bicycling have contributed to a sharp reduction in overall traffic fatalities in the past decade, but eight of the 19 people who were killed in 2012 were pedestrians. Two of those deaths were hit-and-run accidents, but none appeared to involve a hybrid electric vehicle.
John Townsend II of AAA Mid-Atlantic sees an "ongoing concern" with quiet cars.
"Even if you're not wearing ear buds as you cross the street, you can be deep in your thoughts, and it's easy to walk in front of a car that you can't hear approaching," he said.