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

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]