In some casual web surfing last week, I came across several items decrying the dangers posed to bicyclists, runners and pedestrians by hybrid cars. It seems these gas-electric vehicles are so quiet, bikers can’t hear them — and that causes accidents.
We’ve heard anecdotes along these lines ever since hybrids first came on the scene. Some people are even proposing that car makers add some kind of “noise” to hybrids so bicyclists (and pedestrians) are aware of their presence.
What struck me about the articles was their total reliance on anecdotal evidence. Nowhere were hard statistics cited, although some referred to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The study is available as a PDF document on the NHTSA’s web site.
In a nutshell, it says there is a higher incidence of accidents involving hybrids and pedestrians or bikers — in certain situations.
If a hybrid car is turning, slowing or stopping, backing up, or entering a parking space, the incidence of crashes with bikes is significantly higher than if an internal combustion engined car was making the same moves. Collisions between bikes and hybrids were more likely to happen when the car was moving at less than 35 mph.
The NHTSA report notes that it’s based on figures supplied by only 12 states — those whose VIN numbers identify cars as either hybrid or internal combustion. The NHTSA wants to do a more detailed study based on figures from all 50 states.
So — should bikers take evasive action when they see a hybrid coming their way? No more than they would for any other vehicle. Yes, hybrids are quieter. But the wise biker will always be aware of his or her surroundings. Knowing that a vehicle — hybrid or otherwise — is nearby will be your best defense.
*Photo by OrangeLimey, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.