Study: Hybrid cars hit more pedestrians

According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study, hybrids are twice as dangerous to pedestrians because they are sneaky-quiet. This has provoked debate in the auto industry, with manufacturers trying to pick a noise to warn pedestrians of the vehicle’s presence.

HEV’s are most dangerous in the city, when they are almost silent. A rumbling V-8 lets you know it is coming but electric vehicles offer no such warning. The American Council of the Blind has issued a number of press releases in recent months warning of the danger that HEVs pose. There is also a bill with 139 lawmakers on board that would force the Department of Transportation to establish safety standards around “non-visual warnings” for vehicles.

Out of the vehicles in the study:

  • 8,387 were hybrids, of which 77 had struck a pedestrian — this works out to a 0.9 percent incidence rate
  • 559,703 vehicles were traditional gas-burners, which struck 3,578 pedestrians, which works out to a 0.6 percent incidence rate

Electric vehicles are thus determined to be 50 percent more dangerous to pedestrians. Of the pedestrian accidents, it was almost a fifty-fifty break on under or over 35 mph, with one-third of accidents not including speed limit information.

In accidents involving bicyclists, the numbers get worse:

  • 0.3 percent of standard cars on the road hit a bicyclist
  • 0.6 percent of HEVs hit a bicyclist
  • Out of the speed limit data available, 25 of 34 collisions were in a 35 or under zone, suggesting that city streets are the most dangerous places to be a cyclist

Pressure from the ACB and others has spurred a new controversy in the electric-vehicle field. Nissan, Ford and Chevrolet are all trying to determine what, if any, “non visual signals” will be included in their EV models. Tesla has said that it has no intention if implementing “fake noises,” as it has delivered 700 vehicles and the quiet power train is consistently noted as a plus. The Fisker Karma will include a “distinctive audio signature … reflective of the car’s advanced technology.” Whether this means a Jetsons like bubbling whir or cutting-edge dance beats remains to be seen.

Nissan and Ford are still on the fence, not having firm plans either way. According to Ford’s hybrid division head Nancy Gioia, “if we all do it differently, we will confuse the heck out of the consumer.”

Representative Edolphus Towns, a New York Democrat, has introduced a bill that would require the Department of Transportation to establish non-visual warning requirements for HEVs. So far it has 139 supporters.

Public reception for the idea has been mostly negative on the Internet, with people citing the quiet of EV power trains as a decisive advantage not to be canceled by artificial noises.

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