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Hybrids: the silent killers
February 7, 2006 10:38 AM   Subscribe

*Look* both ways before you cross the street "The dangerous drawbacks of driving a hybrid: it's so quiet that pedestrians can't hear it when it's starting up or idling, and they often walk right into the path of the moving vehicle." I've got a feeling this is how I'm going to buy it. Oh well, like the lady said, if it's not one thing it's another. Tip of the hat to Kausfiles via Auto Blog.
posted by mojohand (97 comments total)

 
I don't really notice the engine noise of most cars these days. I'm not saying I don't hear them, but I don't notice them at all.
posted by delmoi at 10:42 AM on February 7, 2006


Traffic officials and police do not know of any cases in which pedestrians were harmed by the popular hybrids. Collision reports don't have a provision for considering whether the quiet nature of the car is a factor.

But Bond Yee, San Francisco's parking and traffic director, said his city may start indicating such causes.


OMG THE SKY IS FALLING!
posted by delmoi at 10:44 AM on February 7, 2006


*puts Prius in Ninja Stealth ModeTM*
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:45 AM on February 7, 2006


Oddly, the noise of my conventional engine has yet to prevent any dumbass from walking into the street in front of me.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:48 AM on February 7, 2006


This is a non-issue. Most gasoline-engined cars today runincredibly quietly. Hell, my big-ass truck runs almost completely silent - the only way I know it's running is because I can hear the fuel pump back at the back of the vehicle.
posted by notsnot at 10:52 AM on February 7, 2006


When standing just outside my wife's car, I can hear very little engine noise. The only time you hear anything, is when the engine fan kicks in.
IMO, the 2 first cases listed in the article, the drivers were at fault. They weren't looking carefully enough. That's why I always back into a parking spot. Later, when I'm ready to leave, I can see everything instead of craining my neck.
posted by xmattxfx at 10:52 AM on February 7, 2006


Could it be that pedestrians, eagerly plugged into their cell phones and iPods, actually have to pay attention? Well, holy shit!
posted by ed at 10:54 AM on February 7, 2006


People who don't look will be thinned out. Those with their heads situated externally with regard to their asses will survive. They don't call it intelligent design for nothing.
posted by Eideteker at 10:54 AM on February 7, 2006


If I'm not paying attention when crossing the street, I pretty much deserve to get hit by a car, hybrid or no.
posted by wakko at 10:56 AM on February 7, 2006


Jeeze, I wasn't attempting to put this 'threat' on the same plane as nuclear terrorism or global climate change; it's just an interesting unanticipated consequence. For example, as a cyclist I have relied on hearing the cars coming up behind me. I'd better change my ways.
posted by mojohand at 10:57 AM on February 7, 2006


I see this as a lucrative business opportunity. I'm going to develop a bumper-mounted whistle and market it to hybrid owners. It will emit a high-pitched sound that only pedestrians can hear.
posted by pmbuko at 10:57 AM on February 7, 2006


For example, as a cyclist I have relied on hearing the cars coming up behind me. I'd better change my ways.

Just buy a little mirror for your bike.
posted by wakko at 11:00 AM on February 7, 2006


This is an issue, and will be even more so as we transition to fuel cell vehicles. These things are spooky silent.

I cycle to work most days in the summer. I also work at a facility that does a lot of experimental vehicle testing. I had the shock of my life one day when a fuel-cell city bus was able to sneak up behind me in the parking lot as I was leaving one day. He blasted the air brakes and I just about had a coronary on the spot. He was right on my rear wheel, and I hadn't heard a thing. Bastard officemate, of course.
posted by bonehead at 11:00 AM on February 7, 2006


This is a non-issue for pedestrians, but I read a piece long ago, 4 years ago or maybe more, saying that the rise of electric cars would be a problem for certain animal populations.

The prediction was that lots of animals have adapted to recognize the sound of an oncoming motor vehicle and get out of the way, and that if near-silent running electric cars are on the roads, they will produce a lot more roadkill because of their sonically stealthy approach. Don't know how valid it is, but it seemed like an interesting hypothesis. I would love the irony of a bunch of eco-nazis killing off lots of roadside animals through their environmentally responsible purchasing decisions.
posted by TunnelArmr at 11:01 AM on February 7, 2006


'He was in my blind spot' while she was backing up? There is no frickin blind spot because you're supposed to look over your shoulder. What if the geezer was deaf?
posted by zeoslap at 11:02 AM on February 7, 2006


I have a bad feeling that this is going to result in a lawsuit that will see a blaring beeper installed on all Prius cars. How about the pedestrians just remain alert of their surroundings, and we'll let natural selection take care of the rest?
posted by Pontius Pilate at 11:02 AM on February 7, 2006


This hydrogen motorcycle was going to have added sound.
posted by R. Mutt at 11:03 AM on February 7, 2006


I dont know if they deserve to be hit if they're careless like wakko said. The article quotes drivers as saying they get looked directly in the eye and they still walk in front.

What I think is that if you see a car on the corner and the car engine SEEMS to be off, then you'd assume he's a double parker or waiting for someone so when you make eye contact, you continue walking but realzing the car is moving when it's too late. Thats my take on it.

I guess we just gotta be more careful, thats all.
posted by pez_LPhiE at 11:03 AM on February 7, 2006


pmbuko: As in: "Woot woot!"?
posted by AwkwardPause at 11:03 AM on February 7, 2006


These people are hard of hearing then. I never look for cars because I can hear most of the noise (even on electric) are from the tires contacting pavement, which is unchanged.
posted by uni verse at 11:03 AM on February 7, 2006


TunnelArmr, while the engine may be silent and any decent speed likely to cause an accident tire noise is still quite easily audible. It's not like folk are getting ran over by bicycles all the time now is it.
posted by zeoslap at 11:04 AM on February 7, 2006


This may have more to do with quiet (efficient) tires and low-drag bodies typically present on hybrids than engine noise. If you stand by a highway and listen to passing cars, most of what you hear is tire noise and wind noise, not engine noise.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:05 AM on February 7, 2006


(what uni verse said)
posted by zeoslap at 11:05 AM on February 7, 2006


How long until someone sues a motor company because they failed to asfixiate themselves by leaving the electric motor running in a closed garage?

Oh, and because the car failed to explode in a beautiful fireball when they shot it.
posted by qvantamon at 11:06 AM on February 7, 2006


All current hybrids run the engine when starting up - for at least a few minutes, longer in the winter - to warm up the catalytic converter.

So in other words, hybrids are as noisy as any other modern car when they're starting up, and this article is a crock, written by an idiot. In any city with a normal amount of background noise, engine noise from modern cars is too low to be heard more than a few feet away anyway. A car moving 20mph covers 30 feet in one second. Even if you heard the car 30 feet away - which you won't, not any modern car, not in the city - you'd have one second to react. And that's a slow-moving car. Guess what, vision is the proper sense for drivers to use to avoid peds, and for peds to use to avoid drivers.

Why not argue that cars being enclosed is a problem? If all cars were roofless, drivers could hear pedestrians walking down the street and avoid them.

For some reason, there is a long-standing bias in the press to rain on any parade. Sometimes there is actual rain to be discovered and written about. And sometimes you have to make up fake rain.
posted by jellicle at 11:06 AM on February 7, 2006


**Stock knee-jerk defense of hybrids.**
posted by smackfu at 11:07 AM on February 7, 2006


You know what's really spooky silent? An electric train doing 100mph bearing down on you. The only thing you hear is a slight hiss from the train tracks. I know I've been told a million times to stay away from train tracks, but I still had a close call a few years ago due to the stealthy train! (Train was about 300 feet away, doing 80 feet per second, when I saw it and got off the tracks.)
posted by knave at 11:07 AM on February 7, 2006


And yes, I know common cars also don't usually explode in fireballs when shot.
posted by qvantamon at 11:08 AM on February 7, 2006


I have a bad feeling that this is going to result in a lawsuit that will see a blaring beeper installed on all Prius cars.much worse than you imagine. (warning, crazy frog sounds)
posted by b1tr0t at 11:08 AM on February 7, 2006


Wow, I got my math backwards, the train was probably doing about 150fps, and therefore more like 500' away based on the few seconds I had to escape.
posted by knave at 11:09 AM on February 7, 2006


hmm, that didn't work:

it could be much worse than you imagine (warning: crazy frog sounds)
posted by b1tr0t at 11:10 AM on February 7, 2006


I'm not convinced this was entirely unforeseen. It seems a fairly obvious consequence, just as, for example, estimates of the societal costs of installing large numbers of solar panels include consideration of likely injuries/fatalities from an increased need to climb up on roofs for installation/cleaning.
posted by biffa at 11:11 AM on February 7, 2006


An engine doesn't just have an on and off button.. It's revs up to higher revolutions which produce louder noise.. a lot people here are basing their argument that cars now are just as noisy as hybrids cause they have engines too and they're on too..

That's not the case. They can be On, running at very low revs and they are smaller engines as opposed to big engines in normal cars..
posted by pez_LPhiE at 11:12 AM on February 7, 2006


I remember reading somewhere that when automobiles were new and everyone was worried that they might frighten the horses, some places passed laws requiring that they be equipped with a siren loud enough to alert the entire town when they were passing through at the speed limit of 5mph.
posted by sfenders at 11:14 AM on February 7, 2006


There was a case in NJ a few days/weeks ago about someone who was struck and killed by a train while walking across the tracks. The sound of the big diesel engine and loud horn apparently weren't enough, so it's not really surprising that even quieter vehicles are more likely to find oblivious people in a bad way.
posted by Godbert at 11:14 AM on February 7, 2006


I would love the irony of a bunch of eco-nazis killing off lots of roadside animals through their environmentally responsible purchasing decisions.

Yeah, that's fucking HILARIOUS!!!!
posted by papakwanz at 11:16 AM on February 7, 2006


It is an issue and will perhaps make a nice product liability class action lawsuit at some point. Yes there is tire noise, but when the car is stopped you hear nothing at all. Even tire noise is barely perceptible at slow speeds versus the sound of a gas powered car of similar size at the same speed. The Prius with its low weight and high mileage tires is particularly quiet. Those who think that their gasoline engine cars are so quiet that they can't be heard should listen in a quiet environment. Lacking deafness they are easily heard at many yards, when it is quiet around. In a noisier environment, which still might not be loud, people are going to rely less on their ears. As the cars become more ubiquitous and pedestrians adapt to their silence I am sure the problem will lessen.
posted by caddis at 11:16 AM on February 7, 2006


I was walking on the sidewalk a couple of weeks ago and as I was crossing an entryway into a parking lot I looked to my left before proceeding and there was a Prius turning in. Usually I can hear a car coming, but as was stated earlier it was completely quiet. I thought to myself that if I hadn't checked it could have resulted in a pedestrian accident.
I have nothing against hybrids, but after that incident I have been thinking more and more that a completely silent car may not be such a good idea.
And the statements about 'Oh, they should have been looking.' was really poorly thought out. I was looking and still nearly got hit by that thing. What should a pedestrian do? Make a complete 360 circle before crossing the street from now on to avoid getting hit?
posted by mk1gti at 11:19 AM on February 7, 2006


I have a hybrid. And my hybrid IS completely silent at speeds below 30mph. I had quite a few close calls when I initially got the car - mostly in parking garages where people expect the engine sounds to be magnified by the surroundings. I have learned to be extra careful when backing up or taking corners because of this. All joking in this thread aside, I have had many comments from people that I have driven up to ("Oh my, I didn't even hear your car approaching me"), so it is an issue.
posted by Flakypastry at 11:23 AM on February 7, 2006


Easy solution.
Baseball card between the spokes.
Problem solved.
posted by The White Hat at 11:24 AM on February 7, 2006


They need to make their cars go vroom vroom.
posted by jaimev at 11:28 AM on February 7, 2006


TunnelArmr, "lots of animals have adapted to recognize the sound of an oncoming motor vehicle"?

What exactly did this article mean by "adapted"? If they meant adapted in the sense of genetics and evolution, well, they're wrong. Motor vehicles have been around, generously, for a hundred years. Adaptation of the sort they're talking about takes thousands, or tens of thousands.

If they mean "learned", well, if someone's willing to grant that a deer listens for cars, I see no reason why they shouldn't be willing to grant that a deer can look for cars. Surely they don't think this sort of thing is a verbal tradition, and the new generations of animals are getting taught bad information by their parents?
posted by dmd at 11:32 AM on February 7, 2006


I would love the irony of a bunch of eco-nazis killing off lots of roadside animals through their environmentally responsible purchasing decisions.
posted by TunnelArmr


As long as you're one of those roadside animals I'd laugh too. 'Cause I'm an eco-nazi who wants to exterminate resource wasting idiots with a warped sense of humor. Darwin's law and all you see, nothing personal.
posted by nofundy at 11:36 AM on February 7, 2006


About the eye-contact thing. I learned from my stepmother (a native of Chicago) that eye contact was a way to force the driver of the car to acknowledge your existence so you know they see you and presumably they won't mow you down. Basically, the car's supposed to back down, not the pedestrian, when eye contact is made. Maybe it only works that way in Chicago, I dunno.
posted by beth at 11:38 AM on February 7, 2006


Cards-in-the-spokes sounds. Or calliope music blasting from the front bumper. Picks up the beat when accelerating and adds drama to a dull car pool commute. Plays backwards when thrown into reverse. Parallel parking would be a hoot.
posted by hal9k at 11:39 AM on February 7, 2006


Easy solution. Baseball card between the spokes. Problem solved.

Yeah, seriously, making noise isn't exactly one of your more daunting engineering problems. If it's that big of an issue, make the cars louder.
posted by furiousthought at 11:41 AM on February 7, 2006


mk1gti, I'd wager that the problem is fairly straightforward: cars have been around for a long time, and current pedestrians/drivers have grown up expecting certain things -- like cars making noise and pedestrians noticing the noise and responding.

Essentially, there will be a learning curve, and things will more or less get back to normal over time. In the meantime, we can hasten things along best (in my opinion) by educating new hybrid drivers about the noise problem, by educating new pedestrians (kids) about the noise problem, and by talking about it openly.

Funny story: recently in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, they opened a "Bus Line" that mimics the originally-planned surface commuter rail that was vehemently fought against by residents, except that there are no crossing gates. Despite months of trial runs, advertisements, news stories, and other media coverage, and despite big warning signs and new traffic lights at the intersections, there were no less than three accidents in the first month attributed to people just not "realizing" that they were driving through a red light and into the path of a bus. A noisy, noisy bus. An achingly huge, noisy, noisy bus.

An article on one of the accidents quoted a woman who claimed she was a "good" and "observant" driver, yet she had gotten a ticket for turning into the path of one of the buses (but not hit). She essentially blamed the design of the bus route, and said that despite being so "observant", she didn't notice the new traffic light and big signs.

So yes, the hybrids are the problem, as much as the bus route is the problem, but they're also the catalyst of the bigger problem: as a species, we suck at handling change, and until we get used to these newfangled things, there will be a period of adjustment.

It's worth noting that after the first months, the bus route accidents appear to have stopped (or perhaps the media has decided to stop covering them...anyone know?)
posted by davejay at 11:45 AM on February 7, 2006


Forgot to say: this article, and others like it, will go far in educating hybrid drivers and pedestrians, and so are a good thing even if they are a little alarmist -- it takes alarmist measures to make people pay attention these days.
posted by davejay at 11:46 AM on February 7, 2006


Beth, as a bicyclist and motorcylist I've had enough drivers look me straight in the eye and then pull right out in front of me. Most do not, of course, but there're sufficient chowderheads and assholes out there to make your Mom's advice dangerously unreliable.
posted by mojohand at 11:46 AM on February 7, 2006


Also forgot to say: and making the cars noisier is not a real solution for the problem; it is a crutch that enables people to continue behaving as if nothing has changed, which is a bad thing.
posted by davejay at 11:47 AM on February 7, 2006


I can sum this article up in two words (not counting the sub-head):

TIMES CHANGE!

(news at 11).
posted by teece at 11:52 AM on February 7, 2006


I have a hybrid. And my hybrid IS completely silent at speeds below 30mph. I had quite a few close calls when I initially got the car - mostly in parking garages where people expect the engine sounds to be magnified by the surroundings. I have learned to be extra careful when backing up or taking corners because of this. All joking in this thread aside, I have had many comments from people that I have driven up to ("Oh my, I didn't even hear your car approaching me"), so it is an issue.

Same. I have a civic hybrid that is always in ninja stealth mode and I've had to learn to be very careful in parking lots and in other pedestrian-populated areas. You just have to remember that even though pedestrians SHOULD be paying attention, they might not be, and if you're driving a super-silent vehicle you have to compensate for that.
posted by Meredith at 11:54 AM on February 7, 2006


I essentially agree with people who say that peds who can't hear cars and use that as an excuse to worry about hybrids running their asses over are dumbasses.

I say this having been a ped almost run over because I wasn't paying attention. But I had to say this and marvel that no one else has yet:

"Silent but deadly!"

But I do appreciate the hybrid drivers who are extra careful, because honestly, evolution would have selected me out long ago if it weren't for the kindnesses of medical science and of strangers, and I could frankly use all the help I can get.
posted by kalessin at 11:55 AM on February 7, 2006


When trains were first invented, they invented the train whistle.

When cars first came along, they invented the car horn.

Humans will find a similar answer here, but I suspect the early signaling prototypes won't be pretty.
posted by ed at 12:03 PM on February 7, 2006


yeah, honestly, i thinkits just amtter of people getting used tothenew cars. God knows i'm shocked at how quiet MY car is and it'sgot a 4-cylinder V-Tech engine. Newer fuel efficient cars ARE quieter, hybrid or not. People will change when it becomes mainstream.
posted by Doorstop at 12:06 PM on February 7, 2006


"I had to jump out of the way of a hybrid, which suddenly, and completely silently, moved toward me," he said. "The car was a brand new Prius, which I remember because it was still very shiny."

*cue Jaws theme*

My solution? Everybody walks.
posted by brundlefly at 12:10 PM on February 7, 2006


my father was working with a company that was going to create a digital muffler, which would record the noise of the car, then play it back out of phase to cancel out the sound completely by way of negative distortion. When iasked him that would be dangerous (all the cars being silent) he said "Probably, but I don't have to try and sell them; I just have to help them build'em.:
posted by es_de_bah at 12:14 PM on February 7, 2006


All current hybrids run the engine when starting up - for at least a few minutes, longer in the winter - to warm up the catalytic converter.

So in other words, hybrids are as noisy as any other modern car when they're starting up, and this article is a crock, written by an idiot.


I know someone with a Lexus RH 400h. It makes no noise starting and pulling out of the driveway. The gas engine does not kick in at start up.

Careful in using the word "idiot."
posted by caddis at 12:20 PM on February 7, 2006


as a bicyclist and motorcylist I've had enough drivers look me straight in the eye and then pull right out in front of me.

As a truck driver, I've had enough drivers look me straight in the eye and pull right out in front of me and the 36,000lb GVWR straight truck I was driving at the time. People are stupid.

I am, however, trying to convince my girlfriend to let me install an airhorn in her Corolla.
posted by stet at 12:42 PM on February 7, 2006


I guess at first hybrid drivers will have to get used to looking around more and using little bumps of the horn to signal their presence; perhaps soon enough a quieter noisemaker of some kind will be added that can be turned on when the driver is near pedestrians.
posted by Drexen at 12:49 PM on February 7, 2006


I know someone with a Lexus RH 400h. It makes no noise starting and pulling out of the driveway. The gas engine does not kick in at start up.

I have a 400h. It is indeed silent at start-up, and remains silent up until about 30mph, unless the batteries are low, or there are other burdens on the vehicle, such as extreme cold, etc.

It also has a back-up camera, which I now realize is no luxury - it's a necessity. I live on a cul-de-sac that normally has many kids playing in the street. The kids have learned to watch for my car, but I use the trick quoted in the article - I open my window so that they can hear my radio and go REALLY slow.

I also agree with the poster above about how we will all become accustomed to quiet cars as they become more common. I am a much more defensive pedestrian since buying my car.
posted by Flakypastry at 12:55 PM on February 7, 2006


As full-time pedestrian and part-time cyclist, it's been a non-issue for me so far. Of course, there aren't many hybrids or electric cars yet, but I always notice them, even if they're behind me.

After getting hit by car last summer, however, I might be more paranoid than most.

The whole "I thought it was parked" concept baffles me. Why would a car in the middle of the road be parked?
posted by mrgrimm at 12:58 PM on February 7, 2006


When trains were first invented, they invented the train whistle.

When cars first came along, they invented the car horn.

My new Jetta has the loudest horn I've had on a car - I really wish there was a way to sometimes honk it at a lower volume because it scares the shit out of people when I'm just letting them know I'm coming up from behind.
posted by jeffmik at 12:58 PM on February 7, 2006


trying to convince my girlfriend to let me install an airhorn in her Corolla

heh heh yeah I got nothin'
posted by BaxterG4 at 1:01 PM on February 7, 2006


A university of washington alumni created a device that monitors your gas pedal and creates exciting high rev engine sounds based on that, you hook it up to your stereo so you can blast away through its speakers regardless of what car you drive. This device puts real fear into people, its perfect. Too bad he has no website I know of, another lost opportunity!
posted by uni verse at 1:06 PM on February 7, 2006


Hmmm. People who dont pay attention get run over. Quiet vehicles are less likely to be heard by pedestrians. Angry guys tend to get hurt more often.

I really gotta get in on this type of research. People are making a fortune studying idiots and self-evident causal relationships.

I should start a research institute called the "Well Duh!" Institute for Advanced Behavioral Studies.
posted by elendil71 at 1:20 PM on February 7, 2006


OMG THE SKY IS F - *THUMP*
posted by iamck at 1:26 PM on February 7, 2006


Yeah, I read about this years ago in a snarky article about the GM "Impact" -- noting that the name was bad enough as it was, but if they got onto the streets in large numbers, they'd probably be hitting pedestrians. Apparently there had already been a number of (at least) close scrapes at the GM proving grounds.

We're getting used to the back-up "beep beep beep" on personal vehicles and I expect that's going to be the model used -- most hybrids are expensive as hell anyway, so it may make economic sense to sell an add-on safety kit for those users (of course, in the long run it should be standard).

Here's an older paper from Norway on these issues.

A new safety problem has, however, entered with the EV. Since these vehicles are almost noiseless, cyclists and pedestrians are more at peril: "They don't hear me when I'm there, so I'm forced to be extra careful in such situations." All in all, Anne focuses on the fact that she has become a more sensitive driver after she got her EV. She adjusts her driving more to other road users, observes more carefully the traffic around her, is more calm than before, and has time to take more care.

This is interesting in light of the ideas of the Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman, who believes that modern roads have too many signs and too many features designed around the idea that you have to get the attention of inattentive drivers. Monderman would like roads to be designed to make drivers pay more attention as a matter of course. For instance, he designed a roundabout that uses only a change in the type of paving stones to indicate where vehicles should drive and pedestrians should walk. This forces both of them to be more aware of their surroundings.
posted by dhartung at 1:39 PM on February 7, 2006


This isn't a bunch of hooey. There is a guy who works in my building who owns a Prius, and that thing is VERY quiet in the parking lot. I almost walked directly into his path in the parking lot because I didn't hear the car moving, AT ALL. I couldn't even hear the tires due to his slow speed, and the fact that there were other IC engine vehicles in the lot.

I think that there is a greater burden of responsibility on those who drive a hybrid than on the pedestrians who walk around them. I don't think pedestrians are stupid, although they do get ballsy; Nobody actually wants to get collided with. Much like motorcyclists learn to ride as if they were invisible, hybrid owns should drive as if they are inaudiable. I'm not saying that pedestrians should be blissfully clueless, but it often takes a close call like the one I had before one realizes what behavior to modify.
posted by hellphish at 1:54 PM on February 7, 2006


WTF!
Is this supposed to be a real argument?
The way I see it:

1) Cuts down on AIR pollution
2) Cuts down on NOISE pollution
3) May harm people who are too dumb to look both ways b4 crossing the street ( I call that NATURAL SELECTION)

Looks good to me ; )
posted by indifferent at 1:55 PM on February 7, 2006


This article is garbage - I never rely on sound to detect cars. As a student waiting at many bus-stops, I noticed only about half the cars made any noise louder than the wind of their passing.

However, I have noticed some animal "adaptation" to car noises:

- Squirrels wait until they can hear my car to jump out in front of it.

- Cats ignore the car until it's stopped 5 feet away, then bolt to the side of the road like it snuck up on them. Must be their acute hearing.

- Dogs chase my car.

- Deer, mountain goats and coyotes ignore cars, presumably because tourists always stop to take pictures.

- Moose, elk and bear ignore cars because any driver too dumb to avoid hitting them is going to be dead.

Yeah, animals sure seem to need that engine noise to know to get out of the way.
posted by Crosius at 1:56 PM on February 7, 2006


Why are so many posters in here so callous about pedestrian safety? We're all pedestrians. Children are pedestrians. The elderly are pedestrians. Your friends and family? They're pedestrians too. Blind people are pedestrians. Most people in wheelchairs face these same pedestrian issues, too.

I'm honestly curious about why some people don't sympathize with pedestrian issues. Are you really that intimately entwined with your automobile lifestyle?

When they installed the electric streetcars in Portland, OR, they foresaw this problem and installed this (slightly annoying, but worthwhile) whirring sound device to the streetcar. Problem solved.

"Natural selection" is such a trite cop out. If it weren't for modern medical science, almost everybody would be naturally selected already. I guess I'm too dumb to be a self-diagnosing physician so I might as well be dead.
posted by Skwirl at 1:57 PM on February 7, 2006


In NYC you learn to always look both ways when crossing a one-way street.
posted by HTuttle at 1:57 PM on February 7, 2006


I CAN'T believe I'm the first one to mention this. (on preview, second. Thank you, Skwirl.)

Some people are blind. Literally.

So all the snarky comments about looking where you're going is an impossibility for some. 500,000 people in the US, for example.

These things are completely silent when stopped at a crosswalk -- I've witnessed it. That's dangerous to everyone, observant or not, because we simply aren't conditioned to expect a car to sneak up on us.
posted by gohlkus at 2:05 PM on February 7, 2006


Skwirl: because people always walk as slow as possible, as often as possible, when they are looking at flashing reds, steady reds, when i have the green light, looking right at you. It breeds resentment. I'm desparate, but not serious. *Sings adam ant*
posted by uni verse at 2:16 PM on February 7, 2006


Hybrids are cool; and by cool, I mean totally sweet.
posted by homunculus at 2:21 PM on February 7, 2006


Could it be that pedestrians, eagerly plugged into their cell phones and iPods, actually have to pay attention? Well, holy shit!


People who don't look will be thinned out. Those with their heads situated externally with regard to their asses will survive. They don't call it intelligent design for nothing.


Why should this be the pedestrian's responsibility? If the driver can't see that there is a pedestrian crossing in front of them and be able to stop in time or honk, then the fault is the driver's, not the pedestrian's. It has no bearing at all on how loud the vehicle is. Use common sense people!! Drivers never have the right to run over or kill pedestrians.

Case in point. I was walking across a marked crosswalk in daylight weel in front of an approaching car. He saw me and right away, before even attempting to slow down, his hand moved up to the horn. WTF?! Nowhere in the US or in most first world countries does the driver have the right of way in a crosswalk.
posted by JJ86 at 2:22 PM on February 7, 2006


I'm in with all the people here who're saying "this is not a false concern." Anyone saying otherwise hasn't ever turned aroud to find an electric car sneaking up on them, five feet away, ready to pounce. That's some scary crap right there.

And forget caliope music, fake engine noises, cards in the spokes (okay, cards in the spokes are pretty good), etc. We need the next generation of hybrid cars emitting the Jetson's car noises. For real.
posted by drumcorpse at 2:36 PM on February 7, 2006


And forget caliope music, fake engine noises, cards in the spokes (okay, cards in the spokes are pretty good), etc. We need the next generation of hybrid cars emitting the Jetson's car noises. For real.

Too much noise pollution though, couldn't they use a more pleasant, natural sound? How about making hybrids sound like a mass of rustling leaves or a trotting horse or something.

Could it be that pedestrians, eagerly plugged into their cell phones and iPods, actually have to pay attention? Well, holy shit!

The ones plugged into their iPods are less likely to mistake a hybrid for a parked car, since they aren't relying on their sense of hearing. Funny how someone with an iPod blasting in their ears might be safer.
posted by bobo123 at 2:57 PM on February 7, 2006


The whole pedestrian vs. motorist responsibility is a false dichotomy. Each is responsible for paying attention. The motorist is driving a potentially lethal weapon; this necessitates care, especially where walkways cross roads. The pedestrian crossing any area used by cars should always assume a vehicle is there, heard or not.
posted by moira at 3:07 PM on February 7, 2006


bobo123: right on, you remind me of the electronically interpreted exotic-bird-call-based car-alarms, which I've heard on the street and are so much less annoying but attention getters as well, quite an artistic solution.
posted by uni verse at 3:07 PM on February 7, 2006


Why would a car in the middle of the road be parked?


Well, in San Francisco at least people park in the middle of the road all too frequently (especially delivery people). This of course is because the sides of the road are already full with cars... it's still illegal, but it happens pretty often. (Really annoying when you're stuck behind them).

[basically on a 2-lane road, if both sides are full, people will park in one of the lanes]
posted by wildcrdj at 3:57 PM on February 7, 2006


We need the next generation of hybrid cars emitting the Jetson's car noises. For real.

Nah. Every car should have external speakers playing Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part 2."

That, or all cars should have musical horns that never stop playing "I Saw the Sign" by Ace of Base (Bass?).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:15 PM on February 7, 2006


How about the Kit voice from Night Rider, he was so polite. "Ahem. your standing in my path..."
posted by uni verse at 4:27 PM on February 7, 2006


If it weren't for modern medical science, almost everybody would be naturally selected already.

Say what now?

Good point on the double parking, however. Still, I see a lot of Priuses in SF, and I've never wondered, "Is that running?"
posted by mrgrimm at 4:50 PM on February 7, 2006


uni verse writes "never look for cars because I can hear most of the noise (even on electric) are from the tires contacting pavement, which is unchanged"

Studded tires for everyone, It's a very liquidy sort of noise.

zeoslap writes "It's not like folk are getting ran over by bicycles all the time now is it"

Actually this is a serious problem anywhere walkers and bikers are supposed to co-exist. At times I've thought I was going to aquire some wierd repetive strain injury in my thumb from ringing the bell.
posted by Mitheral at 5:12 PM on February 7, 2006


ummm, JJ86 I don't know about the rest of the country, but in Georgia (I thinks it's part of the U.S.) a pedestrian only has the right of way in a crosswalk if they entered it legally, or if there are no signals. I understand that in some places the pedestrian always has the right of way, but in GA if you jaywalk, you may die.
posted by Megafly at 5:21 PM on February 7, 2006


My solution to this problem was to put strips of 3 mm LEDs out by the corners of the car. They might not hear me, but they do seem to notice that a two-foot yellow line is coming at them.
posted by Ken McE at 6:07 PM on February 7, 2006


When they installed the electric streetcars in Portland, OR, they foresaw this problem and installed this (slightly annoying, but worthwhile) whirring sound device to the streetcar. Problem solved.

Sorry, this won't fly. Adding auxiliary sounds to a quiet vehicle in order to warn pedestrians would be a common sense solution, and obviously it makes more sense for Motor Trend to continue publishing somewhat alarmist articles about Hybrids That Kill.
posted by chrominance at 6:12 PM on February 7, 2006


I've been driving a Prius for 5 years now. I haven't hit anyone yet. I worried about it when I first got my first Prius, but now I guess my pedestrian radar is permanently on "high."
posted by mmahaffie at 6:44 PM on February 7, 2006


couldn't they use a more pleasant, natural sound? ...a trotting horse or something.

I like this idea! Someone pimp my hybrid, please.
posted by Meredith at 7:37 PM on February 7, 2006


Ban all hybrids.
posted by tomharpel at 7:39 PM on February 7, 2006


This article is garbage - I never rely on sound to detect cars.

I wouldn't be so sure about that. It's not necessarily a conscious thing. You just hear that they are there and act accordingly. Take away one of your senses and you are more vulnerable. Everyone's a smarty pants, until one of these things sneaks up on you and you realize you aren't as vigilant as you thought you were. Of course, you are probably perfect, so not to worry.
posted by caddis at 9:31 PM on February 7, 2006


It's not so much that they're silent - they're not; there's still tyre and road noise, for example - it's that the noise is *different*. You can look at an oncoming car and gauge how fast it's coming, whether you have enough time to cross in front of it, etc - but you don't realise how much the non-visual cues of engine sound, changing pitch, gear changes, etc are being evaluated subconsciously by the brain.

F.E. : I was nearly run over outside work a few months ago by one of the local pizza delivery EVs. I saw the damn thing coming before I stepped off the kerb - I just didn't have all those subconscious cues. It turned out he, in typical "teenage pizza delivery driver out hooning in the new toy" mode, wasn't slowing down for the corner...

(And a hybrid SUV makes as much sense as putting pineapple on a pizza...)
posted by Pinback at 11:31 PM on February 7, 2006


Megafly: ummm, JJ86 I don't know about the rest of the country, but in Georgia (I thinks it's part of the U.S.) a pedestrian only has the right of way in a crosswalk if they entered it legally, or if there are no signals. I understand that in some places the pedestrian always has the right of way, but in GA if you jaywalk, you may die.

Of course pedestrians have the right of way only in a crosswalk, that is not the point. Even outside of a crosswalk, if a driver has the ability to stop or yield for a pedestrian then they should do that. There is no carte blanche to run over and kill pedestrians if they are not strictly obeying the law. There is a difference between GTA and RL, you know? Unfortunately the mentality of most drivers is that might makes right so get out of my way dammit.
posted by JJ86 at 5:49 AM on February 8, 2006


As a Prius owner, I've also "snuck up" on someone (not intentionally) in a parking lot before, although it's only happened perhaps twice in 1.5 years. I've always thought it would be cool to have that gentle "scanning" noise from Knight Rider going to warn people. :-)

While I'm a strong supporter of pedestrian rights (I walk/bike when I can), I am troubled by some of the rhetoric I've heard where I live, which is a college town. A student was hit by a bus last year and killed, which was very sad. At the same time, as an occasional driver on campus, I do see many students crossing the street without even looking, and very often with headphones in their ears. Do I jaywalk? Yes, sometimes I do. Do I look both ways and _never_ have headphones in my ears or a cell phone going? Yes.

As a result of this accident, the local transit authority has installed "strobe" flashers on the sides of their buses to attract attention. This is just marvelous -- I see us having to ramp up the visibility of everything over time. I suspect those strobes will fade into background noise over time, and next we'll be setting off flares each time a bus moves.

I will say that the campus has become much more pedestrian friendly, especially since a number of crosswalks have been repainted and little signs pointing out that pedestrians have right-of-way have been installed. Don't even get me started on bike paths, though -- the number of times I see students _walking in the bike paths_ is quite high, and the design of the paths themselves is bizarre in some places, ending in mid-block without any way to connect up to the next path unless you ride on the sidewalk (which I try not to do, but I have no choice.)
posted by navsaria at 7:54 AM on February 8, 2006


I never checked on this, but that annoying "beep beep beep" you hear when a Prius is in reverse... is that audible outside or is it just through the cabin speakers?
posted by linux at 2:14 PM on February 8, 2006


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