The dangers of quiet cars

Written by Shelly Horvat, AuD, CCC-A. Posted in Health and Beauty

As anyone living near a busy street knows, motor vehicles make noise and that noise can disrupt your life, causing lack of sleep, reduced concentration, and irritation. The advent of today’s new electric vehicles and quiet gas-powered and hybrid vehicles is bringing vehicle noise levels down to a welcome level of quiet for many people. Quiet vehicles do, however, have two dangerous and deadly down sides.

The first problem with quiet vehicles is that because electric and hybrid vehicles operate nearly silently, especially at slower speeds, humans and animals sharing the roadways, parking lots, and driveways with these vehicles have a hard time hearing these vehicles coming. Accidents involving pedestrians and electric vehicles are on the rise, and pedestrians are 40% more likely to be hit by a hybrid or electric vehicle than a combustion-engine vehicle. Due to the problem of people not hearing these vehicles, auto manufacturers are designing special beeps and chirps for upcoming electric and hybrid vehicles to warn pedestrians of their presence. Green energy is extremely important for air quality as well as for conserving natural resources, and hopefully the newer technology will incorporate audible safety features.

The second problem with today’s remarkably quiet cars is that drivers can forget to turn them off when parking them. This can cause carbon monoxide poisoning when a vehicle is parked in an attached garage. This problem is especially prevalent in the keyless vehicles since drivers don’t need to turn a physical key to turn off the vehicle. Keyless vehicles make up more than half of new cars sold in the United States today. Motorists, especially but not limited to older people, have inadvertently parked in attached garages, left the vehicle engines running, and been killed or poisoned by carbon monoxide filling up their garage and home while they slept. Another problem arising from today’s newer keyless vehicles is that combined with the quiet operation, drivers have forgotten to put the vehicle into park and turn off the engine, causing the vehicle to continue moving as the driver exits the vehicle.

In 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed a rule that would have required automakers to install more warning alerts to draw attention to a vehicle left running. The auto industry opposed this rule, and no action was taken. Some manufacturers have since started adding these features to newer vehicles, but there are thousands of vehicles on the roads without these features. General Motors, for instance, has since installed automatic shut-off features in 31 of 39 keyless models. Toyota vehicles now beep externally three times to alert the driver that the vehicle is still running, but they do not have an automatic shut off feature. Fiat Chrysler introduced an automatic shut off feature in its 2018 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivan. Ford now has an auto-shut-off function in all keyless vehicles made after 2015. However, across manufacturers, there is no consistent safeguard to protect drivers against forgetting to turn off keyless or quiet vehicles.

Senator Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut introduced a bill to Congress in 2019 that would direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to adopt a rule requiring auto makers to include a feature that automatically shuts off an engine in keyless vehicles after a specified period of idling. The act is called Park It, which stands for Protecting Americans from the Risks of Keyless Technology. It has yet to be approved but has been read in the Senate and the House. The Park it Bill would also require car makers to install technology to make the car immobile if the driver’s door is opened, the seat belt is unbuckled, or the brake is not engaged when the car has been left running and in gear.

If green energy and safe vehicles matter to you, you may want to make some noise to your political representatives in the US Senate and House to state your support for the Park It Bill.

If you are having trouble hearing the sounds made by your vehicle or vehicles around you, call the audiologists at Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic to request a complete hearing evaluation.

Shelly Horvat, AuD, CCC-A, is a Doctor of Audiology with Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic, located at 1125 Hospital Dr., Suite 50 in Toledo (419-383-4012) and 1601 Brigham Dr., Suite 160 in Perrysburg (419-873-4327).