Steven J. Schwartzapfel, a partner in the New York personal injury firm of Schwartzapfel Truhowsky Marcus P.C., is putting auto and truck OEMs on notice that the “quietness” of hybrid cars and trucks can be considered a higher safety risk for pedestrians and bicycle riders than gasoline- or diesel-only powered vehicles.

"These vehicles may provide important environmental befits, but they cannot do so at the expense of safety," he said, pointing to a September 2009 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that found that hybrid vehicles, which are typically quieter than internal combustion engine cars and trucks, can pose a greater risk to pedestrians and bicyclists.

NHTSA’s study determined that hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) have a higher incidence rate of pedestrian and bicyclist crashes than do models powered by internal combustion engine alone in certain vehicle maneuvers, and that these results should serve as a guide when designing future HEVs pedestrian and bicyclist crash prevention programs.

"In light of this report, hybrid manufacturers and drivers are now on notice that they need to take steps to make sure their cars are seen and heard by cyclists and pedestrians,” said Schwartzapfel. “They may be held accountable for injuries when they fail to take those steps."

He added that newly proposed federal legislation – the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 – would require federal transportation safety regulators to set a minimum noise level for vehicles