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Just off to Brighton for tomorrow’s RAC Future Car Challenge, having taken a look at the opposition. There is clearly there is a low carbon car for everyone: the range of energy types on display demonstrates the different approaches to cutting greenhouse gas emissions from road transport. Our entry is a Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid.

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Hybrid electric vehicles pose no greater danger to pedestrians than equivalent petrol-powered cars, and adding some sort of mechanical noise to hybrids to make people more aware of their presence risks masking the sounds made by other vehicles.

Tyre and wind noise appear to be the main sounds people use to detect an approaching car and these are common whichever power-source is used.

These are the conclusions of research carried out by the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland (RACQ) in Australia.

Using four cars – two hybrids and two conventional-engined – RACQ researchers tested the ability of both blind and sighted volunteers, with the sighted participants being blindfolded so as to be reliant on their hearing only. The results from the sighted participants were in the end considered unreliable because the group seemed to be anticipating approaching vehicles rather than physically hearing them.

Those carrying out the research concluded:

“Hybrid vehicles present no more or less of a risk than any other quiet vehicle. Even quiet conventional vehicles can pose a threat to pedestrians in some circumstances. The lack of, or reduction in, mechanical noise from hybrid vehicles does not significantly increase the risk factor in urban traffic environments.

“Increasing noise levels of hybrid vehicles by introducing an artificial sound, as explored in other studies, in our view is not a solution. Doing so has the potential to increase the risk to pedestrians as the artificial sound coming from the hybrid could drown out or mask other quiet (conventional) vehicles by elevating the ambient traffic noise level.”

“All pedestrians need to be aware of the potential risks quiet vehicles of all types pose and take appropriate action to ensure their safety.”

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said:

“This is not to say that hybrids are risk-free as far as pedestrians are concerned, only that they seem to be no more dangerous than the latest generation of petrol and diesel cars.

“Adding ‘sound effects’ only risks obscuring other noises that pedestrians rely on to get a complete picture of their environment.”

“The number of hybrid and pure electric vehicles on our roads is currently very small, but there are calls for the figure to increase to 1.7 million by 2020 to help combat climate change. There have been legitimate concerns about how pedestrians and other road users will interact with these vehicles, but this research suggests at least when it comes to hazard perception the public have less to worry about than some have feared.”

ENDS

The Royal Automobile Club of Queensland – the RACQ – was formed in 1905 with just 12 members. Today it is the State’s peak motoring organisation, representing the interests of almost 1.2 million members.

The RACQ full report ‘Audible detection of approaching hybrid and petrol powered vehicles in the urban environment: A field test’ is available on their website. The press release accompanying the report release can be viewed here.

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