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As Cars Become Quieter Safety Becomes A Bigger Concern

Brian Champagne

Most civilized people like quiet cars whether we’re in them or they’re driving past us. But now they may be getting too quiet and the government and carmakers are making some just a little bit louder.

That’s road noise in the 2021 Accord Hybrid Touring that Honda loaned us.


It’s a comfortable sedan with plenty of space and all the latest safety and crash avoidance tech. As a hybrid, it gets 43 miles per gallon combined and can still scoot with a two-liter gas engine when it needs it.


But when it doesn’t the blinker is louder than the engine. Headed into a parking garage it will slow down and goes all-electric and slow, a combination which makes it so quiet that researchers say it would be dangerous. 


So it makes this sound. That’s it at five parking spots away.


A 2009 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study of pedestrian and bicyclist crashes comparing hybrids to just internal combustion engine powered vehicles found that when a vehicle is slowing or stopping, backing up, or parking, hybrids were twice as likely to be involved in pedestrian crashes than gas-burners. And that was before every single walking person was on a phone.


In 2012 NHTSA said more than 1,500 pedestrians went to the emergency room after they were injured while walking and on the phone, more than twice as many as in 2005, though overall pedestrian injuries went down.


General Motors knew the short-lived EV1 was quiet back when I tried one out in 1997 and they gave it a separate pedestrian horn that made a mild brrr brrr sound.


The Federal government mandated sound for too-quiet cars last September. And while a vehicles make a variety of sounds, there isn’t a certain one they have to make because the 2020 law did not rule out driver-selectable options. 


So if your Accord’s ominous sound doesn’t get someone’s attention off their phone, well, you could come up with your own sound, like “Get off the d*mn phone!”


Brian Champagne grew up in the less-famous Central California but left after starting his television news career there. He worked 22 years in news for NBC, ABC, Fox, and CBS affiliates in four markets. He served as chief photographer for KTXL-TV in Sacramento, but worked in front of the camera, too.