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Pedestrian and bicyclist crashes with hybrid electric vehicles

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Some two million hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) have been sold in the United States since commercial production began in 1999. Among the advantages typically mentioned are that hybrids are cleaner, more energy-efficient and quieter. However, one of these apparent benefits carries with it potential risks for other road users, who are accustomed to an environment dominated by louder combustion-engine vehicles (CEVs).

A 2009 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report, “Incidence of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Crashes by Hybrid Electric Passenger Vehicles” (PDF), investigated HEV accidents that involved pedestrians and cyclists. Analyzing more than 550,000 crashes across 12 states between 2000 and 2007, the study compared accidents to better understand the relative risks of HEVs and CEVs to pedestrians and cyclists on American roads.

The study’s findings include:

  • For the 8,387 HEVs and 559,703 CEVs studied, a total of 77 and 3,578 pedestrians were involved in crashes with HEVs and CEVs, respectively. A total of 48 HEVs and 1,862 CEVs were involved in crashes with bicyclists.
  • For accidents where a vehicle was slowing or stopping, backing up, entering or leaving a parking space (when the sound difference between HEVs and CEVs is most pronounced), HEVs were twice as likely to be involved in a pedestrian crash than CEVs.
  • For crashes involving cyclists or pedestrians, there was a higher incident rate for HEVs than CEVs when a vehicle was turning a corner. But there was no statistically significant difference between the types of vehicles when they were driving straight.

Tags: bicycling, bicycle, bikes, cars, safety

    Writer: | Last updated: March 7, 2011

    Citation: Hanna, Refaat. "Incidence of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Crashes by Hybrid Electric Passenger Vehicles," National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, September, 2009, PDF.

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    Analysis assignments

    Read the study-related Washington Post article titled "Auto Safety Bill Would Require 'Alert Sounds' for Quiet Hybrid, Electric Cars."

    1. Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
    2. Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. (for example: Does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties [e.g., political groups business leaders, or community members] and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?)

    Read the full study titled "Incidence of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Crashes by Hybrid Electric Passenger Vehicles" (PDF).

    1. Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
    2. Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
    3. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)

    Newswriting assignments

    1. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
    4. Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.