As this article in Wednesday's Washington Post explains, electric cars present a new type of hazard to pedestrians and those with impaired sight: you can't hear them coming. At low speeds (under 6.2 MPH) the cars can literally sneak up on you and put you at risk of serious injury. One study says that pedestrians face a 50% increased risk of injury from cars that are backing-up and turning.
The article explains that the car manufacturers are thinking about putting artificial noises into these vehicles to reduce the risk of injury. Will we see product liability claims against car manufacturers for making vehicles that are too quiet? Federal legislation is in the works to require manufacturers to equip such cars to have non-visual alerts so that pedestrians can determine the vehicle's location, motion and speed.
The use of electric cars will make it necessary for lawyers who do car accident cases, particularly those involving pedestrians, to understand what type of motor was in the car. One can argue that a person driving an electric car at low speeds has an increased responsibility to be on the look-out for pedestrians and use the horn to warn them as the car approaches. The lack of engine noise deprives pedestrians of an opportunity to use one of their senses - hearing - to avoid an injury. This is particularly true for pedestrians who are children or who are elderly, or even for adults who are obviously pre-occupied with caring for children, talking on a cell phone, or juggling packages.