• Mar 15, 2006
An article in the Mercury News examines whether or not hybrids are dangerous to the walking public due to their lack of decibels when operating at low speeds. The cacophony of noise produced by a gas-powered car serves as a warning of approach for many people, particularly the blind. Hybrids have the ability to operate with near silence on battery power at low speeds, which the article postulates could make them dangerous to the iPod-toting, cell phone-talking pedestrian who isn’t paying attention.

While no unusual cases of a hybrid harming an unsuspecting pedestrian have been recorded (at least not any that couldn’t also have occurred with a gas-powered vehicle), the article is filled with personal anecdotes of individuals who swear they’ve almost either hit someone with or been hit by a Prius at low speed. Without any hard data to draw a conclusion either way, the author seems to be sensationalizing a problem that doesn’t actually exist, at least not yet.

While we’re not convinced a hybrid’s silence qualifies the vehicles as a real threat to society, there are solutions already being considered. Some suggest having the radiator fan turn on when a hybrid is operating on its batteries alone, or perhaps a beep similar to the one emitted by commercial vehicles when backing up.


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  • 40 Comments
      • 8 Years Ago
      Memphis, TN - "It's illegal for a woman to drive a car unless there is a man either running or walking in front of it waving a red flag to warn approaching motorists and pedestrians."

      http://www.dumb.com/laws.htm

      Perhaps this law can be adapted for hybirds? :P
      • 8 Years Ago
      or perhaps a beep similar to the one emitted by commercial vehicles when backing up.
      • 8 Years Ago
      How about if it just has speakers out front that blast a repeated "WARNING: SILENT HYBRID ELECTRIC NON-POLLUTING CAR APPROACHING", ideally in a refined but loud European accent of some kind. that would satisfy the pedestrians and those who buy hybrids to tout their green bonafides.
      • 8 Years Ago
      "the article postulates could make them dangerous to the iPod-toting, cell phone-talking pedestrian who isnt paying attention."

      That statement is backwards. It should read: "The iPod-toting, cell phone-talking pedestrian who isn't paying attention could be dangerous to the hybrid driver."
      • 8 Years Ago
      Is any generally un-aware I-pod brarring jogger really more likely to get hit by a hybrid than by a standard car? Doubt it. Now, to be occationally spooked by one in a parking lot is different.
      Although I can think of a few really cool tech gadgets that could be implemented here, I'm all for the do nothing approach. Until some prius-flattened UM students start showing up at University receiving, its a mute (pun-HAHA) point.
      On a different note (related due to the self responsibility factor) who is behind that Mario Andretti tire pressure campaign? '...tyres at correct pressure? BRILLIANT!!!'
      • 8 Years Ago
      Back in the olden days, parents used to teach their kids to "look both ways before crossing the street." Of course, the Prius driver could put down the granola bar and watch the road, also!!
      • 8 Years Ago
      What we need are the human equivalent of deer whistles. You know, those stupid black plastic protrusions you see on the front bumper of every pickup truck and station wagon built before 1989 in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Simply tune the frequency to the human ear's range and problem solved.....

      http://www.deerwhistle.com/
      Des
      • 8 Years Ago
      It's all very well being self-righteous about the need to pay attention to big objects like cars, but this completely ignores the very obvious fact that sometimes cars are behind you and you can't see them, but of course you can hear them if the engine is running. When you're in a pedestrian crossing and someone is turning across it behind you, there's no way you will see them unless you walk looking backwards. I'm not sure how many people do that but I don't.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Here we go. Yes I was nearly hit by a Prius a few months back. Yes I saw her, no I wasn't listening to an iPod.

      She seemed to stop at the four way stop. So I proceeded as anyone would. They she apparently started moving (later claiming that the sun was in her eyes and she never saw me). Naturally I dove out of the way in time but since I didn't actually hear the car start moving it was much much closer than it would have been normally.

      So yes this can be an issue.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Yes! Finally the chance for me to mass market my patented playing cards in the spokes emergency warning system.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I saw a fuel cell A-class Benz this weekend, and ya it was totally silent. However everyone else is right, people now are oblivious to the relatively quiet cars on sale today.

      Solutions? Well if we ignore this and people get hit alot we will end up with ever uglier cars designed with front airbags and big pillow bumpers.

      Maybe ALL cars could eventually be fitted with low-level audible warnings - not the annoying beep-beep of garbage trucks and reversing Toyotas - but a more imaginative tone thats focused in the direction its needed. The technology is currently nearing public release to focus speaker sounds in precisely the direction of the listener. Combine that with sensors that track pedestrian movements, and boom problem solved.

      • 8 Years Ago
      As a frequent pedestrian I look forward to far quieter streets. Walking and biking, not to mention living and working in rooms facing roadways, will be much, much, much more satisfying without engine noises.

      Look both ways!
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