Hybrids Hit More Pedestrians – Time For Some Regs?

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According to a limited and (admittedly) flawed NHTSA study, hybrid cars seem to hit twice as many pedestrians as non-hybrids in certain low-speed maneuvers. The reason? Hybrids are nearly silent when operating in electric-only mode.

Are hybrid cars REALLY stalking pedestrians? NHTSA says "probably"

Are hybrid cars REALLY stalking pedestrians? NHTSA says "probably"

Specifically, the study states that:

…[when] a vehicle is slowing or stopping, backing up, or entering or leaving a parking space, a statistically significant effect was found due to engine type. The HEV [hybrid electric vehicle] was two times more likely to be involved in a pedestrian crash in these situations than was an ICE [internal combustion engine] vehicle…the incidence rate of bicyclist crashes involving HEVs [hyrbids] was significantly higher…

The data that this report is based on was only taken from a small number of states (13) and over the course of a relatively short time period (8 years). Therefore, the study is far from conclusive (and NHTSA has said as much).

But do we really need a study to “prove” that hybrids hit more people? Doesn’t it seem sort of self evident? Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. When walking, do you rely upon your ears to alert you to vehicles outside of your peripheral vision?
  2. Have you ever honked your horn when backing out of a low visibility parking space, pulling into an alley, or coming around a corner in a parking garage?
  3. If you’ve driven a hybrid, have you ever accidentally “snuck up” on a pedestrian and scared them?

Chances are good that you can answer yes to 2 or 3 of these questions…here’s why.

You’re a human who uses your EARS. Hearing is one of two really important senses that people use while driving. It’s why our cars have horns. It’s why ambulances have sirens. It’s why it’s illegal in most places to drive your car while wearing headphones. It’s why there are laws against really loud stereos and exhaust systems.

While hybrid advocates are quick to point out that the study results could be explained by poor visibility, and that the study data is significantly flawed, (and they’re right), do we really care? Isn’t it obvious that hybrids don’t make noise and that as a result some pedestrians get hit?

There are three options going forward:

  1. Mandate that hybrids make noise via some sort of regulation.
  2. Conduct a better study.
  3. Do nothing.

Option 3 is probably off the table, but just for grins let’s consider it. While hybrids were 50% more likely to hit pedestrians according to the flawed study, the total incident rate was less than 1% of all vehicle crashes. In other words, as bad as it could be, it pales in comparison to other problems. Animal strikes (cows, deer, elk, etc.) injure FAR more people than hybrids hitting people in parking lots. Maybe our energy is better spent elsewhere.

Option 2 is less likely. Most people aren’t going to critically evaluate the current study, so they’re probably never going to learn that it’s flawed and that a better study is needed. Such is politics in America.

Option 1 seems most likely. It’s very easy for NHTSA and/or Congress to instruct auto manufacturers to add a noise maker to hybrids while operating in electric mode.

What do you think – which option makes the most sense? Is there an option missing?

Filed Under: Auto News

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  1. mk says:

    I agree that at low speeds under 20 mph the prius should make some kind of noise all the time whether it be a beep, beep, beep at very low levels or an engine roar sound at very low levels so as to still hear it running on electric only and still not be annoying and loud to the driver inside. My neighbor has one of those darn prius’s and he snuck up on me in my driveway one time while I was working on something and he beeped the horn and scared me to death since I did not see or hear him drive up my driveway since absolutely quiet on electric only. Even if it saves 1 life of a pedestrian or bicyclists, the low noise level being heard is worth it. So, toyota – make some noise!!!!!

  2. I vote for a few PA Horns playing the Jaws Theme when the engine shuts down. DUH DUM……….duh dum…..duh dum duh dum duh dum. POOOWWWW!!!! GET OUT THE STREET! PRIUS PRIUS!!!! GET OUT THE STREET.

    Paint blood pouring out the grill and a few face prints in the hood. Oh yea, I’d buy that.

  3. Mickey says:

    Wrong answer. Just because people are flawed into not looking where they are going is your reason most of these so call hits occur. Why should the car have to make noise? Who in the hell will buy a car that goes beep beep beep constantly? You wouldn’t put up with such nonsense. Once you cross that line and put noise in it then all hell wilbreak loose by how many decibels it has to be and where now do you get this B/S inspected at to make sure you’re in compliance. This is another ruse just to raise the price of an electric car so no one can really afford one. It goes back to how you were taught to cross a road by looking both ways. Most people these days are already into the intersection before they look. You want noise install some train horns in Prius’s and you can hear them coming a mile away.

  4. Mickey says:

    Why is it they know the study’s flawed and won’t conduct a better study? If the car is running perfect why must we have to fool with it? Man just can’t leave well enough alone. Do a better study to see if this warrants anything done.

  5. Make smarter Pedestrians. Actually, if all the dumb ones are run over by Prius’ then only the smart peds will remain. PROBLEM SOLVED!

  6. TXTee says:

    People need not walk in front of moving vehicles while texting, etc. The cars are vey quiet but they’re still larger than a human. Who wants an annoying beeping sound while driving? I say pay attention while walking and stop thinking that becaues the law says you have the right of way……you’re going to step out.

    On another note, what was the guy’s excuse that I slammed on the back of his trunk to get his attention as he was backing into my right leg in Costco’s parking lot today? It was a combustion engine……guess you just have idiots all around. Can’t say he missed me if he was clearly looking back or in rearview…I had a bright red t-shirt on!

    Again, lack of judgement and common sense doesn’t mean auto manufacturers should go creating more nannies. Driving comes back to people being responsible overall as drivers AND pedestrians.

  7. The laws of Physics supercede all other laws. If you step infront of a 2 ton vehicle you will be pot-hole filler. Deadmen don’t sue, and their family’s don’t either if you run them over too. Look twice then step.

  8. I think some of the noise options being discussed are more “normal” than beeping…something like a low-level speaker that emulates the sound of a gas engine or cooling fan. While I agree with Mickey that more regulations are bad, and with Jeremy and TXTee that pedestrians are ultimately to blame, mk and I have both been “snuck up” on by a hybrid running in electric mode. Nothing bad happened of course, but I can say first hand that a blind person or someone in too big of a hurry to look both ways would benefit from a noisemaker of some kind. Having said that, the mandatory in-car alcohol detection system we profiled a while back – https://www.tundraheadquarters.com/blog/2008/04/28/should-in-car-alcohol-detection-systems-be-mandatory/ – would save thousands more lives. Such is the cry of safety. Everywhere we look, SOMETHING could be made a little safer. However, we have to know when we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns. Noisemakers on hybrids? Seems like it should be pretty far down on the list.

  9. TXTee says:

    LOL @ new audio to recreate the sound of an engine. That would almost make me feel bad to drive the Prius. I know what you mean though because people step out in front of the Lexus as well because the engine is so quiet.

  10. ANd we now return to my Jaws Theme Idea. It is recognizable and would get the attention of any pedestrians. We could also just have a piece of metal drag under the car to make noise, ala Rusted muffler style. We could also have a mattress attached to the front of the car to soften any blows their ignorance caused.

  11. mk says:

    None of you must have young kids that do NOT pay attention all the time walking in a parking lot. It would be so easy for a Prius to back up and hit a kid not paying attention and not looking around. Kids are also smaller in height so they are more difficult to see and a little bit of engine noise might make a difference in saving a life. Kids sometimes react better to hearing than sight, especially if not paying attention. I’m not saying a beep, beep, beep noise like a delivery truck going into reverse, but at least a sound like a radiator fan running or something would be nice to be able to know a car is near you. What about if a electric car backed up into you while walking away from it? You would not even know what hit you since you do not have eyes behind your head.

  12. Mickey says:

    Come on mk kids will do the same if noise was evident. They will run out in front of a combustable engine as well as an electric one.

  13. mk says:

    I’m just saying if they heard it they might be able to get out of the way since we all know kids do not always look around and pay attention to their surroundings as much as adults. You can hear a car run vs. totally silent prius in a parking lot and that ONE time the noise could help save a life. I even experienced a prius in a walmart parking lot backing up and I can honestly say that people being people, do NOT visually look around while walking and could easily see how pedestrians could be run over by a backing out prius. A lot of people that I see around who buy these prius cars are either older or lack some basic driving skills, but I guess that can be said of a lot of people in cars nowadays. The one thing I would love to see banned and it is a comin’ soon is texting while driving or even the fricking cell phone users. There is not 1 day that goes by that I do not see a driver talking on their cell phone unaware of their surroundings and I have to HONK that mighty tundra horn behind them from a green stop light to get their ass moving. Air horns are on my wish list on both my tundra and Honda Valkyrie cycle.

  14. mk – Great point about texting/talking and driving – yet another example of something that is more important than this issue. I think you and Mickey are both right about kids. Adding a noisemaker to the Prius would likely prevent some incidents sometimes, but it certainly wouldn’t be enough to prevent kids from being kids.

  15. Jeremy – LOL – you make a compelling case for the Jaws theme. Maybe we can team up and sell them on eBay? 🙂

  16. TXTee says:

    Wrong @ kids. It’s called parent holding their hand and paying attention, especially if walking in a parking lot. Children are not wild deer…even though some of them appear to be the way they sprint through parking lots/garages. As Jason said, can’t prevent them from being kids so you have to be the parent. The sound of the car isn’t what gets attention only. I’m sorry but a massive block of metal is more than enough reason to pay attention to whether it’s going to move or not.

  17. mk says:

    My kids are more than capable and intelligent and not wild like some kids I have seen are of walking in a parking lot not holding their hands like a little baby being now 8 and 11. Even when they were 4-5, they did not need their hands held like a 2-3 year old should. All I am saying is a little noise on any vehicle out there is needed to warn others including adults that a car is backing up in a parking lot, for example, because as we all know, adults as well as kids are not always looking around all the time and a car running noise would prevent possible death or serious injury.

  18. TXTee says:

    Disclaimer: I’m on my soap box today b/c I don’t want to be in the office……I see adding that “beep” as a reason for drivers to say the pedestrian they hit was “warned.” As with all safety features, us lazy humans tend to get comfy with it and forget we’re supposed to be the responsible commander of vehicle. Maybe pedestrians in PriusLand aka California need to start paying more attention period. They love to step off that d@mn curb out here with all their “liberal rights” and I have to remind myself I’m not in TX anymore where people know good and well having the right of way doesn’t mean anything when that object is much larger than you and more than likely a good ol pick up!

  19. And when a truck hits you you are good and hit. No slopey hoods and low bumpers. Just a flat slab of death with a big block behind it. I LOVE DRIVING A TRUCK!

  20. I also tell my kids to LOOK before stepping into ANY roadway. When I got my motorcycle lic. the FIRST rule was: All other vehicles are being piloted by blind morons. I have missed many acccidents following that rule.

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