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Are Electric Vehicles Leading to More Pedestrian Accidents?  

Have you ever found yourself about to cross the street only to be surprised to see a silently approaching vehicle about to pass the location which you almost stepped upon? Join the many near-misses involving silent electric vehicles.

But what are the statistics on pedestrian accidents involving electric vehicle? Do they present a clear and present danger to pedestrians on the streets of the City of New York and other major metropolitan cities in the United States?

The Wave of the Future?

Electric vehicles (or EVs) have long been hailed as the future of transportation, thanks to their efficiency and environmental benefits. Yet recent sales figures show that the long-promised future for EVs has finally arrived: In the U.S., sales of EVs grew by 35-percent in 2018, with a record 123,000 new vehicles being registered.

While the rising popularity of EVs is an undeniable good for the environment, it’s fair to question if the same is true for pedestrians — particularly those in New York.

Why Some Observers Believe EVs Pose a Greater Risk to Pedestrians

One of the defining features of electric cars and other vehicles is their noise level (or to be more precise, their relative absence of noise). Unlike louder gasoline engines, EVs move quietly. So quietly, in fact, that unwitting pedestrians may not be able to hear them as they enter intersections and walk along city streets.

The numbers appear to support this conclusion. Two National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) studies have been undertaken to examine how EVs influence pedestrian accident rates. The first, a relatively small sample study that examined 77 accidents involving gas/electric hybrids, showed a 40-percent increase in pedestrian accidents as compared to gas engine vehicles.

The second, larger study — which examined crash data across 16 states — found a 35-percent increase in pedestrian accidents associated with EVs. The study also found that these accidents primarily occurred at low speed, another indication that those being injured by EVs may have had trouble hearing their approach.

Does the Data Hold Up?

recent article in CleanTechnica.com points out that there are some possible issues with the methodology involved in these NHTSA studies, Namely, the studies did not control for an important factor: Geography. Electric vehicle adoption is highest in densely populated residential areas — the same areas that have large numbers of pedestrians. This may partially explain why EVs have a higher rate of collisions with pedestrians.

Yet while that observation may mitigate some of the effect seen by federal studies, you don’t need extensive research to understand that it’s more difficult to perceive a threat from a quiet, oncoming vehicle than from a very loud oncoming vehicle. The noise generated by gas engines serves as an early warning system of sorts for pedestrians.

So how do we reconcile the quest for fuel efficiency with the need for safety? Federal regulators have mandated that EVs have until 2020 to conform with standards that mandate a minimum level of “in motion” noise. Another, more technologically-minded approach is the development of advanced safety systems that cause EVs to brake automatically anytime a pedestrian appears on the horizon. As such systems grow more powerful and refined, the likelihood of pedestrian/EV crashes will diminish.

Finding the Right Pedestrian Accident Attorney

In a densely-populated and highly walkable area like New York City, and other metropolitan areas across the country, pedestrians are a permanent part of the landscape. As mentioned in the CleanTechnica article, EV adoption is also at its highest in areas such as New York. One example: New York City officials are currently building an electric vehicle charging infrastructure that will be capable of accommodating one million vehicles by 2025.

Combine these factors and it becomes clear that people who walk New York’s streets face an elevated risk of being involved in a pedestrian/EV accident. This means that local pedestrians should always exercise caution, and not rely on their ears when negotiating intersections and walkways. In 2017, a total of 101 pedestrians were killed by vehicles on New York streets.

Correspondingly, drivers of electric vehicles must exercise an added degree of vigilance for the foreseeable possibility that a pedestrian will walk out in front of the relatively silent approaching vehicle.

In New York State and City, negligence is comparative and there likely will be an apportionment of a degree of blame on the part of the driver who fails to recognize the potential for the unexpected actions of pedestrians who do not hear an approaching vehicle.

With the proliferation of ever increasing numbers of electronic vehicles, juries will likely be more often called upon to decide the degree of relative blame which the pedestrian and driver have in the occurrence of accidents.

Should the driver bear greater blame than the pedestrian in view of his or her knowledge as to the silence of their vehicle? How can a jury apportion blame to a pedestrian who reasonably anticipates that a vehicle will emit engine sounds only to be surprised by the silent electric vehicle? On the other hand, shouldn’t the pedestrian be held culpable, at least in part, by reason of walking into the street before visually making certain that there are no approaching vehicles?

How will a jury apportion blame between the driver and the pedestrian, given the many factors which may be present in an accident?

All of these questions and issues are sensitive to the particular facts of each case.

When Should an Injured Person Hire a Lawyer?

If you’ve been involved in a pedestrian accident and injured due to what you believe to be the negligence of another, contact an experienced law firm promptly.

It is important to retain an attorney who has a deep knowledge of the law relating to pedestrian and auto accidents. An accident may often involve many factors.

The retained counsel will be in a position to timely and fully investigate the case; gather witness information and statements; examine the road conditions and other evidence as part of a thorough investigation. It is prudent to contact a lawyer as soon as practicable given the need to preserve evidence and to file a legal action within the applicable period required to timely file a claim and/or action.

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