Seat belts, air bags, crush zones, and strong cabin framing keep the passenger compartment intact in all but the most serious of accidents. Due to these advances in automobile safety technology, being a passenger is safer than ever before, but being a pedestrian, not so much. Recently more research and development has gone into pedestrian safety, and electric vehicles [EV] should be at the forefront of this research.
The problem with EVs is they are nearly silent, which makes them perfect for stealth maneuvers, but not so perfect for backing out of a driveway. Pedestrians are accustomed to listening for the sound of an engine when they see a car or are walking across a driveway. No engine sound most likely means it’s safe to walk, but with the increasing adoption of EVs, pedestrians are getting less warning of an impending impact.
How to fix this? Toyota recently added a very sci-fi sound generator to all their hybrids and plug-ins that operates below 15 mph to warn pedestrians. Very cool, but what if someone actually gets hit? Where modern automobiles have crush zones to protect passengers, a “prototype” plush zone, designed by Japan’s Hiroshima University students, protects pedestrians.
This particular electric vehicle, the iSAVE-SC1, may only go 20 mph, but with the fluffy pillow plush zone out front, the other students getting hit don’t seem to notice at all. Try this in a regular car, and they’d all be in an ambulance five minutes later. Sure, I wouldn’t expect to see this exact variation of the plush zone on a modern street vehicle, but I’m sure it gives engineers ideas on how they could design their cars for both passenger and pedestrian safety.