Hybrid vehicles’ silence seen as posing peril
As the car crept up to them, the students didn’t react. It wasn’t until it was about to run them over that they even knew it was there. And that was only because it hit their white canes.
The hybrid car’s electric motor had kicked in. And the students, all of whom are blind, couldn’t hear it.
“It came up, and it was right there. We had no idea it was even coming,” said Chad Wilburn, one of students, who took part in a demonstration of the new hazard posed by the quiet hybrid vehicles earlier this year in Salt Lake City by the Utah Center for the Blind.
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But they’re not the only ones worried about the silence. Emergency workers are raising the alarm, too, saying it can be hard to tell whether a hybrid’s engine is still running at the scene of an accident.
“If it’s in gear, it can lurch forward and injure someone,” said James Surrell, a physician at Marquette General Hospital in Michigan, who teaches hybrid safety classes for rescue workers and emergency medical technicians.
In addition to a standard 12-volt battery under the hood, a typical hybrid engine uses another battery under the back seat that packs as many as 600 volts — more than enough to cause instantaneous death.