Do Hybrids Hit Pedestrians More Often? NHTSA Report May Say So

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A new study concludes that Prius repairs cost 8.4 percent more than repairs on non-hybrid economy cars.

A new study concludes that Prius repairs cost 8.4 percent more than repairs on non-hybrid economy cars.

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Advocates for the blind have long been pushing for hybrid and electric cars to make some kind of artificial noise at low speeds, to alert people with vision impairment of their presence when operating in all-electric mode, which is quieter.

But data on whether electric-drive cars actually hit pedestrians more often has been lacking. Now, a new report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that they do, although it is based on a limited set of data.

Twice as likely to hit cyclists

According to the report, which aggregates accident reports from certain states, hybrid like the Toyota Prius were involved in pedestrian crashes at a rate of 0.9 percent, which was half again as high as the 0.6 percent rate for vehicles with gasoline engines.

And hybrid vehicles were twice as likely to have hit cyclists, at a rate of 0.6 percent versus 0.3 percent.

Pedestrians: Small children walking across an intersection

Pedestrians: Small children walking across an intersection

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Methodology weaknesses

The NHTSA study highlights its own weaknesses, though. The study is based on data from just 12 states, the only ones to record vehicle identification numbers (VINs) that allow hybrids like the Honda Civic Hybrid to be distinguished from their gasoline counterparts.

Also, the data was limited to accidents starting in 2000, when the first hybrid cars arrived in the U.S. This reduces the size of the sample set against accident data that dates back for decades.

Hybrid drivers: Be aware!

Still, the message seems clear: Hybrid drivers, pay extra attention when you're operating in electric-only mode. Watch for pedestrians and bicyclists. Seriously.

If those hybrid drivers do get into accidents, by the way, their cars will cost more to repair than non-hybrids (although the difference is narrowing). Yet another reason to drive extra carefully....

Meanwhile, the National Federation for the Blind has asked automakers to set minimum sound standards for hybrids and electric cars.

[NHTSA via PureGreenCars]

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Comments (17)
  1. There's a critique of this study at:
    A major element that seems to have been ignored is driver visibility. A number of hybrid owners complained of poor visibility when turning or backing up. This has nothing to do with their cars being hybrids, and everything to do with the hybrid market being dominated by a few models that have poor visibility design. Other confounding factors are discussed in the article and in reader comments as well.

  2. It's just an anecdote I know, but I've seen this first-hand. A young woman ran out in front of a hybrid Ford Escape NYC taxi right before my eyes a few months ago...and it was operating in electric mode at the time. Had the vehicle been making some kind of noise, I believe she would have instinctively looked and avoided getting hit. She was OK, but her mistake earned her a trip to the hospital.
    I agree with rickjackman about other mitigating issues, but the fact is bicyclists and pedestrians rely upon both sight and sound to avoid vehicles. Silent vehicles are inherently more dangerous.

  3. A true risk is the accident counts divided by the vehicle population. This study failed to count the registered hybrids and reference gas vehicles. Table 6a (pp. 13) shows this problem when the hybrid vehicle turning rate shows '19 incidents, 1.8%' and backup rate shows '7 incidents, 5.3%'. The percentages are not proportional to the accident counts and is not a true risk per vehicle.
    The study, DOT HS 811 204, can be downloaded from the NHTSA and should be studied with a critical eye. But we've found the Prius has half the fatality rate as all vehicles reported by the NHTSA measured in deaths per 100 million vehicle miles. This report is showing something else.

  4. HEY! It's not Hybrids hitting pedestrians, it's pedestrians walking in front of hybrids !!! BIG DIFFERENCE! i.e these idiots need to LOOK where they're going and actually have some respect for crossing a ROAD, just like they're taught as little kids! I'm 100% sure these accidents aren't caused by hybrids driving down footpaths to mow these idiots down.... Cars have RIGHT OF WAY on roads.. end of story! That's why they have crossings.

  5. None of the statistical arguments presented here in criticism of the NHTSA refute the fact that neither the blind nor any other pedestrians can hear these vehicles approach. Injuries to blind pedestrians, cyclists, and others have already occurred, and more will as more hybrids hit America's roadways. None of the critics of this study have proposed any viable solution and are simply trying to use statistics to pretend there is no problem. What they are essentially saying is that more blind people, runners, cyclists, and others need to get killed or injured before anything is done. This is unacceptable.

  6. Statistics are how we determine whether or not a problem exists. You don't just get to deem a problem to be in need of solving because of what your gut tells you.

    Also, car noise isn't just made by the car's engine. When the car moves, it makes wind noise, and the tires rolling on pavement also make noise. For hybrids or conventional cars.

    The other reason you have to use statistics is because there's a gaping hole in the theory that quiet cars are more dangerous. The study this conclusion is based on did not correct for the fact that hybrids live in cities (vs. rural) by a two to one margin. Pedestrian accidents also occur more in urban settings, also by a two to one margin.

    That entirely explains the difference in accident rates.

  7. Noise generating cars kill about five blind pedestrians each year and injure about 10 times that many. Hitting the blind with a legislated noise generator leaves them just as dead or injured. This law, H.R. 734 and S. 841, will not make them safer than ordinary cars but make them just as deadly.
    The new accident avoidance systems detect pedestrians as well as other cars. At computer speeds they apply the brakes to protect both the pedestrians, the car owner and other cars. Accident avoidance systems improve vehicle safety over that of today's ordinary noise cars and that is what is needed.
    Bob Wilson

  8. As my friend Carl said: "...I think their study was flawed: they needed to compare the hybrids against otherwise similar vehicles. Limit the variables."

  9. @Ido: They did, for instance Honda Civic Hybrid vs. Honda Civic, or Toyota Camry Hybrid vs. Toyota Camry. The challenge comes with the Toyota Prius (by far the most numerous hybrid), because there's no analagous gasoline-only model.

  10. I always thought silent autos would have a downfall somehow. Not to mention the cost of purchasing one equates to a few years in fuel costs!

  11. A true comparison is the accidents divided by the population, the counts of vehicles. The comparisons in this study are relative profiles or relative distributions of accidents. They are not a true risk because it fails to compare the accidents per vehicle or vehicle mile. Sad, because the NHTSA does this every year with their annual report of fatalities per 100 million miles. They know how to do a fact based analysis of risk and this is at best, a shadow. One that can fool those who don't look at the math and source data from the report.

  12. We do not need more noise in the world, we need less. How about lowering the noise of existing vehicles.

  13. Idiots? I assure you, I am not an idiot. I was however, hit by a Prius in a parking lot in November by a driver who was more concerned with finding a parking place than watching for pedestrians. I did not walk out in front of her car, I was walking through a parking lot. She failed to see me in time and as a result I suffered a broken leg. Please be careful about calling people idiots tsport100, when I was learning to drive I was taught that pedestrians ALWAYS have the right of way and drivers should be paying enough attention and driving in a manner that will not result in hitting one.

  14. And please be careful about taking your own anecdotal experience, and attempting to extrapolate that into conclusions about how everybody works (drives), and then selectively impose new laws on people.

    I'm sorry for your accident, but adding more noise pollution to the world doesn't make pedestrians safer.

  15. Broken Leg, would you have dodges the car is it had made noise? I think not. Pedestrians dont dodge cars in accidents, because you dont dodge nearby cars all the time, and when you do realize that car is not passing next to you but on you its too late. Pedetrians get hit by cars, trucks and buses that do make noise. The most promissing solution, afaik, are collision avoidance systems that detect cars, objects and pedestrians and instantly apply brakes.

  16. I heard one of these new honda's sound like a spaceship when it starts up!

  17. The NHTSA study did not correct for the fact that hybrids operate in more dangerous environments for pedestrians. Cities see twice the rate of pedestrian accidents, compared to rural environments. Guess where hybrids tend to get bought? In cities. By a ratio of two to one.

    That hybrids only produce 40-50% more pedestrian accidents actually makes them look safer than conventional cars, when you account for this rather important fact.

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