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HOUSE

Lawmakers OK bill for louder hybrids

Silent hybrid vehicles may soon be a thing of the past.

Auto safety regulators would have to set minimum sound levels for hybrid and electric vehicles under a bill approved Thursday by the House. Blind pedestrians say the quietness of hybrids can pose risks for them because they use sound cues to travel safely.

Hybrids such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight are well-regarded for their high gas mileage, but they are virtually silent when propelled by electric motors at low speeds. With more hybrids and new electric cars coming onto the market, automakers and advocates for the blind have raised concerns about potential safety problems for blind pedestrians.

“The trend toward putting more environmentally friendly, quiet vehicles on the road has unintentionally jeopardized the safety and independence of the blind and other pedestrians,” said Rep. Edolphus Towns, New York Democrat.

The House passed the bill 379-30. The Senate approved its version, sponsored by Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, last week, and the measure now goes to President Obama for his signature.

Rep. Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican, said the bill would protect blind pedestrians along with joggers, children and others who need to be alerted to approaching traffic.

Automakers and the National Federation of the Blind support the plan. Car manufacturers have started developing artificial sounds that will be emitted from electric cars and future hybrids.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a research report last year that hybrid vehicles are twice as likely to be involved in pedestrian crashes at low speeds compared with conventional vehicles. The study looked at circumstances in which vehicles were slowing down or stopping, backing up or entering or departing a parking space.

TREASURY

Mortgage holders offered options

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said Thursday the government is trying to keep as many struggling borrowers as possible in their homes in several programs.

Mr. Geithner told a congressional oversight panel that although the Treasury Department’s ability to spend new bailout funds for the central foreclosure-prevention effort expired in October, it is running other programs for borrowers in certain situations such as those who are unemployed.

Mr. Geithner testified that the housing market remains weak. He said the government is putting downward pressure on mortgage rates through agreements with finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The government has been buying securities backed by mortgages that are issued by Fannie and Freddie.

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