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Lawmakers want electric cars, hybrids to make noise

Prius

Prius

PHOENIX — The silent start that helps make hybrid vehicles better for the environment poses dangers for pedestrians, especially the blind, who can’t hear them coming, according to a group of Democratic lawmakers.

HB 2780, sponsored by Rep. Ed Ableser, D-Tempe, with 22 other Democrats signing on, would establish a minimum sound standard for all vehicles sold and registered in Arizona, specifically those ultra-quiet hybrids.

Ableser said he introduced the bill after being approached by the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona.

“This is a very broad issue of public safety, not only for the blind but for kids, cyclists and other pedestrians as well,” said Sami Hamed, the group’s legislative chairman. “With technology getting better and better, there are tiny drawbacks.”

Ableser said he expects the number of hybrid vehicles in Arizona to double or triple in the next few years.

“This bill is to encourage the auto industry to step up and address these issues more quickly than they are now,” Ableser said.

The bill doesn’t say exactly how cars would meet a minimum sound standard, but it specifies that the sound emitted by the vehicles be consistent with the operation of internal-combustion engines.

The bill made it out of the House Environment Committee on Wednesday, but only after Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler, moved that it receive a “do not pass” recommendation. Bills usually win endorsement or fail on a “do pass” recommendation.

The committee’s 7-2 vote, with Ableser and Rep. Barbara McGuire, D-Kearny, abstaining, sent the bill forward with the unusual designation.

Robson, the House speaker pro tempore, said a sound requirement would hurt the automotive industry in Arizona. He also said he hasn’t seen evidence of accidents related to quiet vehicles.

“I’m kind of mystified about this bill,” Robson said. “This bill would be the ruination of the auto industry in Arizona. The financial impact is enormous for the state.”

A representative of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers registered with the committee as opposing the bill. Wade Newton, a spokesman for the group, said it would like to see the issue resolved at a national level.

“Imagine how difficult it would be if Arizona chose to address this one way but other states chose another,” Newton said.

Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind, said Maryland, Virginia and Hawaii are considering similar legislation.

Arizona was ranked 11th in hybrid registrations in 2007. There were 9,455 hybrids registered in 2007 and 5,542 hybrids registered in 2006, about a 70 percent increase, according to R.L. Polk & Co, an automotive research firm.

Ableser said regulating sound emissions from hybrids wouldn’t hurt their popularity.

“People buy hybrid cars for a different reason,” Ableser said. “This bill will just solve an unintended consequence to a community who was not taken into account in the first place.”

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