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.
Commuters of all types will just have to adjust to the inevitable changes. It can’t be all perfect; we just have to move forward as best we can and adapt to new conditions.
This summer I pulled into the entrance to a park to wait for a friend who had fallen behind. My intent was just to kill about 30 seconds, then do a U-turn. Long story short, I almost turned right in front of a hybrid that I never heard come up behind me. Lesson learned? Always LOOK over your shoulder before you make a turn…you may be surprised what’s back there.
How many of the bikers and pedestrians hit were wearing headphones?
People just need to look where they’re going. The only people who should be relying on their ears to tell them when traffic is coming are people who are physically blind.
It’s also harder to hear cars on windy days, or when wearing ear coverings in the cold. Should cyclists avoid going places on cold windy days because it’s harder to hear cars?
As the owner of a hybrid vehicle, the only time I can imagine an incident like that happening would be in a parking lot, which are just pure dangers to cyclists anyway. At parking lot speeds, the car is pretty darn quiet. On the road, however, I’ve had my wife pass me while I was on my bike, and at speed, the car sounded just about like any other about to overtake me.
Isn’t that because, going slow in a parking lot, it’s running on electricity, while out on the road, it’s using its internal combustion engine?
The problem are not the Hybrids… the problem are bikers.
As a cyclist I trust and depend on my ears to know what’s on my surroundings. That’s my mistake.
It’s nice to just listen and make a fast decision, but it’s not safe.
Sine Botchen says
* Number of times I’ve had some roadie scare the living crap out me (as they silently slipped past me unexpectedly): about a million.
* Number of times this (and likewise electric/hybrid cars) could have been prevented by looking over my shoulder: about a million.
As i am hearing impaired, i always look over my shoulders every day when i go riding even through i cant hear anything from roads. i have done that since 1989 – road racing, traithlons and mtn biking. better use your eyes to check everywhere. 🙂
I think that is not about hybrid car, but is all about person who drive and we must make some the new SOP .
Leonel Babine says