Opinion

Felix Salmon

Dangerous hybrid datapoint of the day

By Felix Salmon
September 29, 2009

These tables come from a study organized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and they’re sobering: they show that hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) are in some times twice as likely to be involved in pedestrian and bicyclist crashes as their internal combustion engine (ICE) counterparts.

The first table shows 1.2% of hybrids being involved in low-speed crashes with pedestrians, twice the rate of old-fashioned cars; the second table shows 0.6% of hybrids crashing with bicyclists, again twice the rate of noisier cars.

pedestrians.tiff

bikes.tiff

The reason, of course, is that the hybrids are so quiet: bikers and pedestrians use car noises to help them work out which cars are moving and which aren’t. That’s why hybrid manufacturers are now talking about adding vroomtones. Sounds like a good idea!

(HT: Voiland, via Weisenthal)

Comments
25 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Part of the explanation is also that hybrid vehicles are much more common in places where people bike then in places where biking is more rare.

 

I want my next hybrid to play the “ice cream van” music.

Posted by Craig | Report as abusive
 

I’d second oneeyedman’s point. The only meaningful comparison would be among automobiles within the same geographic areas. Ownership of hybrids skews strongly to dense, urban, affluent areas – neighborhoods rife with pedestrians and bikers. By contrast, you won’t find too many in southern suburbs, where friends of mine have been stopped by cops for taking a walk, in the presumption that something had to be wrong if someone was out on the street, walking.

Here’s a California study that quantifies those claims.

Journalists love counterintuitive studies; automotive writers love any story that puts down hybrids. That’s why we’re always seeing these sorts of reports get such substantial play. But there’s generally very little basis in fact.

Posted by Cynic | Report as abusive
 

why not force bicyclists to make loud noises so that cars will hear them?

Posted by q | Report as abusive
 

If they add any tone other than the sound that the flying cars made in “The Jetsons”, I’m going to feel that I have been cheated of the 21st century I deserve.

Posted by Townleybomb | Report as abusive
 

+1 on the comments from oneeyedman and cynic. Felix, can you address the flaws in your research and report back? Or will this have to get added to your smackdown list?

Posted by milo | Report as abusive
 

The problem is easily addressed by revising various anti-nuisance laws, and requiring HEV owners to turn up their boomin’ systems. If you hear loud music, then you know it’s either a possible gang member or an eco-activist. Problem solved.

Posted by akapod | Report as abusive
 

This is a solution looking for a problem.

Silence is a benefit, not a bug.

Why not instead try to get to the root-cause of danger to pedestrians by (1) making safer roads, (2) educating drivers to drive carefully.

Posted by Katt | Report as abusive
 

< 10 MPH are low speed crashes. Just make them more comfortable to the blind by adding outside airbags or beds.

Posted by IF | Report as abusive
 

That’s cause women drive them mostly. Say it people, don’t be afraid of the truth

Posted by Paul | Report as abusive
 

I’m not a statistician but you have to acknowledge that the sample of HEV vehicles is way smaller than ICE, which makes the number less significant. In other words, these tables are BS.
Also, in terms of noise: if more cars were less noisy, you would hear the less noisy cars better, right? That’s another way this “study” is biased in favor of noisy cars.

Posted by Mathieu JVL | Report as abusive
 

even if the quieter cars do crash into cyclists at low speeds more often, am i the only person that thinks this is just a temporary cost of transition? i think making cars make unnecessary noises is a kludge of the most ridiculous sort. there is another equilibrium, where everyone is happy city streets are quieter, and people pay attention to where pedestrians and cyclists are while they are driving. adding sounds to cars would ensure we’d never get to that better equilibrium.

katt’s right. why settle for a quick and dirty workaround that preserves everything that’s wrong with american car culture, when we can engage in fundamental reform, of which silent cars would be a feature?

 

“why not force bicyclists to make loud noises so that cars will hear them?”

Yes! beans might do the trick. It’s healthy too

Posted by Paul | Report as abusive
 

Oh well it’s obvious, sell more souped up V8s with boom boxes innit. Wonder who’s getting run into by these cars? Pedestrians wearing ipods ignoring roadrules perhaps?

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive
 

It turns out that having cars make a certain level of noise in areas with pedestrians and cyclists is a _safety feature_. It saves lives–this is a proposition that is getting harder to argue with every day.

It does not then follow that adding noises to essentially silent cars is “unneccessary.” It is no more unneccessary than seat belts, air bags, bumpers, lights, or any other safety feature. I mean, _really._ If something makes cars hurt and kill fewer people, how is it even possible to breezily dismiss it as “unneccessary?”

Or maybe we can just change human nature–write a law that everyone should be more attentive, considerate, and safety minded.

My money’s on the loudspeaker under the hood when it comes to saving lives.

Oh, and Mathieu–no, you’re not a statistician. Of course you can compare a rate between different populations. How do you think we identify risk factors?

Posted by Craig | Report as abusive
 

Mathieu, do you also dismiss statistics comparing graduation or crime rates among blacks and whites in the US because one group is a minority?

Statistically, any two populations can be compared without worry as long as their sample sizes are greater than 32. (That does not account for sample bias, but I don’t think that’s an issue here)

 

Asian female in a Prius! A rolling death machine?

As with any new technology, drivers and cyclists are going to have to adapt. Making them louder is simply stupid.

Posted by Brad Ford | Report as abusive
 

From the study:
“This study found that pedestrian and bicyclist crashes involving both HEVs and ICE vehicles commonly occurred on roadways, in zones with low speed limits, during daytime, and in clear weather, with higher incidence rates for HEVs when compared to ICE vehicles”

The idea that minivans and suvs arent around pedestrians and bicyclists as much as hybrids doesnt seem to be supported.

Sampled states are: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan,New Mexico, North Carolina,
Pennsylvania, Washington, Wisconsin- so there is a pretty good mix there. Nothing to lead you to think that HEV are going to be over represented.

The most plausible effect is noise- cyclists generate a certain amount of ambient noise themselves and use motor noise to detect when vehicle are approaching. Absent enough motor noise to overcome the ambient noise, the cyclist wont be able to detect an approaching vehicle.

Posted by Lord Toast | Report as abusive
 

I am a little concerned about this rush to make electric vehicles or hybrids louder in light of these reports. We now have an opportunity to turn down the volume of modern society. People are going deaf and hence losing focus and the ability to concentrate and communicate. MP3 players, busy highways, televisions everywhere, muzak – society is damn noisy and just when technology gives us an opportunity to begin to appreciate some silence again – we start designing things to be loud. This is madness. If the collective ambient noise of everything was reduced, then we would still hear an electric car. It´s not the level of the noise of just one car, but the relative noise between all things. Let´s turn it all down as much as we can and restore some peace and quiet to the modern world.

Posted by paul Johannessen | Report as abusive
 

I know all of you self declared affluent uber conscientious greens think you sound clever and funny…..we’ll you don’t. Not that you care but actually you sound fake and arrogant very California. I’ll feel very bad the first time one of those little dumb cars bounces of my SUV…too bad the crazy’s driving them appear to have no driving or self preservation skills and insist on zipping in and out of traffic on highways as well as suburban streets where they have no business being in the first place. They were designed for the over crowded less affluent urban areas where people enjoy living on top of each other anyways…while pontificating with each other over 5 dollar cups of coffee solving all the world problems with other peoples money

Posted by laslavic | Report as abusive
 

‘Very California’ – Well, I’m convinced.

Maybe your ego will keep you afloat, your SUV certainly won’t.

Posted by Dale | Report as abusive
 

The report covers 2000-2007 for 12 states and the table is the total number for these eight years. These numbers are too small to be statistically significant and the NHTSA did not flag them as significant. Felix is making a claim that is not in the report and certainly is not justified by even a causal look at these out of context tables.

Bob Wilson

Posted by Bob Wilson | Report as abusive
 

Actually, Bob, those little asterisks you see in the table mean that the numbers ARE statistically significant.

Posted by Felix Salmon | Report as abusive
 

This is a seemingly “common sense” argument that has no basis. People aren’t hit by cars because they don’t hear them, they are hit because a driver is reckless. I was hit in the crosswalk of our lovely downtown, broke my leg, didn’t matter if the car made a noise or not. No, car noise is a public nuisance, a hazard far worse than any effects from the made up, drummed up hazard of people being hit by cars because they didn’t hear them! This is of course the argument that Harley Davidson drivers use to justify the hideous racket that they visit on the public, that they’re in danger if people don’t hear them. Auto manufacturers play up the idea of motor vehicles being tools of anger, aggression, of one upsmanship, of getting your own way regardless of its effect on others or the public at large. A big part of this is the sound they make, the cut out or after market muffler, or even the exhaust system that is allowed to become defective with age and not fixed. Loud noises, especially those of the low frequency and vibrating nature of these modified car exhaust noises that have in recent years become rampant on our roads, are harmful to people. They distract people, interfere with learning in adults and children, and foster an attitude of ill-will between people, a feeling of helplessness in the face of an unavoidable noxious stimulus. Lets join together and get these things off the road! Email me and we can start a citizens campaign!

Posted by Patrick Sullivan | Report as abusive
 

PS my email is yowza1@myway.com

Posted by Patrick Sullivan | Report as abusive
 

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