Hybrids — The silent killers?

Imagine: You are walking along the street or in a parking garage. You are thinking about your to-do list. Then, out of nowhere you hear ... nothing. And that’s when it hits you. No literally, that is when it hits you. You have just been run over by a highly fuel-efficient yet easy on the ears hybrid vehicle, with nothing but an eerie silence to warn you!

While this is clearly a dramatization, the government wants you to believe that you are at an increased risk from hybrid and electric vehicles due to their quiet engines. But fear not, citizen, the government has once again come to your rescue — the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) is proposing regulations to require hybrid and electric manufacturers to outfit their vehicles with “audible alert systems” designed to largely mirror the sounds produced by traditional internal combustion engines.

However, the research does not support their claims of heightened risk. From 2001-2009, there were a total of 53 pedestrians struck and killed by hybrid or electric vehicles, on average less than six per year. During this period, people were nearly twice as likely to be killed by a vehicle with a noisy internal combustion engine. While there was a slight increase (19 percent) of pedestrian injuries from hybrid and electric vehicles as compared to standard vehicles, these were mostly during low speed maneuvers that typically resulted in minor injuries.

While you never want to trivialize any death, some perspective is warranted. How do six pedestrian fatalities a year compare with some other rather “innocuous” things we encounter on a daily basis? Consider the following:

• Approximately 20 people a year are crushed by cows. Where is the push to outfit these killers with alert warning systems?
• Falling coconuts kill approximately 150 people per year. Is it time for a congressional subcommittee to investigate this onslaught from above?
• Toasters claim the lives of approximately 17 unsuspecting breakfast enthusiasts each year. Should we ban these death traps of deliciousness forever?
• Vending machines crush approximately 13 people a year. Honestly, you have a greater chance of dying while trying to retrieve that Snickers bar stuck on the dispensing coil then you do from hybrids.

ADVERTISEMENT
How much will this regulation add to the price of new hybrid and electric cars? NHTSA estimates it will cost consumers $25 million per year. Is this really how the government should be spending tax dollars?
 
I commend NHTSA’s efforts to keep us safe. However, with government spending and deficits at all-time highs, there are far more productive ways the government can use its limited resources to help reduce our risk. A more meaningful government intervention might come from policies to address distracted driving, specifically texting while driving.

Based on NHTSA’s own research, you are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash while driving distracted. More astonishingly, a study from the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis concluded that texting while driving results in 2,600 fatalities and 330,000 injuries per year. This makes texting while driving six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated and the No. 1 killer of teenagers. We have national standards on driving under the influence, but no federal laws pertaining to texting while operating a vehicle. Perhaps this is where government should come to the rescue?

Government can play a role in helping to reduce our risk, but requiring hybrid vehicles to produce an alert noise is misguided and unnecessary. You can help by telling NHTSA not to waste our tax dollars on such a fruitless endeavor, but instead focus their efforts on policies that could have a real impact on everyone’s safety. Visit Distraction.gov, the official government website for distracted driving. There you can access NHTSA contact information, get more facts on distracted driving, and find out how to get involved.

Kulesa is a recent graduate of the Masters of Public Administration program at The George Washington University’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration.