Quiet Killers?

A new study out from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that hybrid electric vehicles are more likely to collide with pedestrians and bicyclists than vehicles powered by internal combustion engines. At low speeds, when an electric motor is most likely to be engaged, the collision rate for hybrids was double.

I don’t doubt these findings; I’ve been startled more than a few times by hybrids that “snuck up” behind me in a parking lot.

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.

A variety of crash factors were examined to determine the relative incidence rates of HEVs versus ICE vehicles in a range of crash scenarios. For one group of scenarios, those in which a vehicle is slowing or stopping, backing up, or entering or leaving a parking space, a statistically significant effect was found due to engine type. The HEV was two times more likely to be involved in a pedestrian crash in these situations than was an ICE vehicle.

Read the full technical report [1.3mb PDF] →

58 Responses to “Quiet Killers?”

  • Stephen says:

    I have to wonder what the stats are on fatalities in these crashes. We have a Prius in our family, and if I had a choice, I’d rather get hit by one of those than a eight-foot high truck or SUV that you could almost ride a bicycle under. A Prius would scoop a pedestrian up and over, whereas a large truck or SUV would squash a pedestrian like a bug.

  • mike says:

    ‘Stop look and listen, before you cross the street.
    Use your eyes, use your ears, before you move your feet.’

    True, they can be a bit quiet at really slow speeds in a parking lot or cross street.
    We were testing this out while on a ride though – at cruising speed you can certainly still hear the wheels dopplering to and fro.

    ‘Loud pipes save lives.’

    I wonder if all cars and trucks throughout history were quiet… would we be having this discussion – as loud street noise has been normalized as just a fact of life – we are almost desensitized to it and do not use our other senses.

  • ToddBS says:

    I wonder though if it the correlation is between the vehicle/engine type of the vehicle or the mindset of the person driving the vehicle.

    Is the cyclist getting hit because he didn’t hear the car? Or is the driver of the Prius apt to be less careful and observant because he views his vehicle as less dangerous?

  • John says:

    I’ve considered covertly gluing deer whistles to the bumpers of hybrids. They don’t do squat for repelling deer, but they may alert the urban walking or riding meat beasts that there is a car about to run them down. If we could tune the whistles to be most effective at under 20 mph, that would be ideal. Once a hybrid is doing over 20, the tires make enough noise to hear it coming; above 25 and most have their combustion engine kick in too.

  • cb says:

    That’s definitely true. There’s been talk about endowing these quiet hybrid cars with fake engine noise so that otherwise oblivious pedestrians can know they’re coming.

    The stories I’ve heard have involved elderly people in parking lots and kids running into the street. They didn’t bother to look around because they couldn’t hear the cars.

    There’s a reason that U-Turn from *Weeds* wanted to outfit his crew with all Priuses. “You can sneak up reeeeeaaaal quiet on some motherf***ers!” Hybrids are deadly, and good for drive-bys!

  • Frits B says:

    There are lots of cars nowadays where the engine is hardly audible. Most noise comes from the tires anyway, and this too is being reduced by selecting quieter compounds and profiles. Isn’t it time for pedestrians and cyclists – who themselves are almost inaudible! – to rely more on their eyes than their ears? A quiet world is a boon. Didn’t I just read somewhere that traffic noise kills?

  • Frits B says:

    Oh, and obviously history repeats itself here. In the very early days of the automobile people complained about steam cars which silently sneaked up on you – they only gave off a hiss, as compared to the loud explosions of the internal combustion engine.

  • ToddBS says:

    Frits B said: “There are lots of cars nowadays where the engine is hardly audible”

    This is indeed true as anyone who has ever ridden near a high-end luxury can can attest to. Which brings me back to my point. There are other vehicles out there just as stealthy as a hybrid and yet they aren’t hitting people more often… that to me points to the operator of the vehicle needing to elevate his caution level and not that the decibel level of the engine needs amplifying.

    To quote from the article:
    “For one group of scenarios, those in which a vehicle is slowing or stopping, backing up, or entering or leaving a parking space, a statistically significant effect was found due to engine type”

    I don’t see how engine noise can be isolated as the main factor in any of those scenarios, especially backing up.

  • dukiebiddle says:

    “We have a Prius in our family, and if I had a choice, I’d rather get hit by one of those than a eight-foot high truck or SUV that you could almost ride a bicycle under. A Prius would scoop a pedestrian up and over, whereas a large truck or SUV would squash a pedestrian like a bug.”

    ?!

    The point is that an accident is far less likely to occur with an internal combustion SUV because the cyclist will actually hear the vehicle. Given a choice, I would prefer to not get hit by a motor vehicle.

    “Is the cyclist getting hit because he didn’t hear the car? Or is the driver of the Prius apt to be less careful and observant because he views his vehicle as less dangerous?”

    I’m be willing to go out on a limb and presume it is because the cyclist does not hear the vehicle.

  • Alan says:

    My personal experience supports the idea that the results are related to sound. The fact that the largest discrepancy between HEV and ICE collision rates takes place at low speeds seems to suggest that as well.

  • ToddBS says:

    “I’m be willing to go out on a limb and presume it is because the cyclist does not hear the vehicle.”

    That is what the study wants to imply, yes. I’m saying that there is no conceivable way that they could isolate and test that from analysis of traffic collision data.

  • Alan says:

    @ToddBS

    I’m not sure the study authors want to imply that conclusion as much as the data suggests it. Forgive me if I’m just picking nits here… :-)

    Alan

  • dukiebiddle says:

    Couldn’t you isolate that data by comparing it to collision rates of bicycles/pedestrians and vehicles that are similar to hybreds in every way except for engine type? Isn’t that the only way to isolate statistical data? If the only signifigant difference between a backing up Prius and a backing up Corolla is engine noise, then logic would dictate….

  • ToddBS says:

    The data is not isolated because you have no idea what was going on in the environment at that time. You don’t know the physical/mental state of the involved parties. Maybe hybrid owners have a tendency to back out without looking? The list could go on and on. From a scientific standpoint, analyzing data from past, unobserved occurrences is not a very accurate method of testing for a single datum.

    Anyway, I’ve harped on this enough. I shall pontificate no longer.

  • paul says:

    In the foggy past, I’ve read that some drivers of hybrid vehicles were intentionally sneaking up on unsuspecting people, just to see how close they could come.

  • Scott says:

    Wow, what a debate. Come on folks … will we now begin to say belt drive bicycles are unsafe because they make less noise, too?

    To me, it’s simple. Don’t blame the VEHICLE (whatever its type) for the accident (unless, of course, it’s somehow defective). Blame the PEOPLE involved. If you’re crossing a street, changing lanes, or riding through a parking lot on your bike without looking, just because you don’t HEAR a car coming, then you take the risk of getting hit by what you didn’t see. In a parking lot, EVERY car is a potential “backing up” accident waiting to happen. Give yourself room to take evasive maneuvers if necessary. Can you HEAR a parked car door opening when riding too close on the street? Should we demand them to sound a warning alarm ten seconds in advance? Of course not … we give ourselves room for safety and keep our eyes open.

    If you’re driving a very quiet car and blow past a cyclist without giving them ample room, assuming they see or hear you, then you also aren’t being a responsible driver.

    I have cyclists pass me all the time when walking or riding slowly on dedicated bike paths … most never provide any warning, and can’t be heard until it’s too late. It’s only because I’m aware of my surroundings that I don’t get hit by them from time to time. Isn’t it nice when we hear the sound of a bell from a fellow cyclist? It seems people are never without a smile when I ring mine to let them know there’s a bike coming.

    As a cyclist, pedestrian, or driver, we all have to become more aware of our surroundings as we move through them. There are many distractions, yes, but that is no excuse. If looking behind you is too difficult, try using a mirror. Teach your kids to ALWAYS look before entering a street. And PLEASE keep in mind that drivers can’t always see us, no matter what kind of car they drive. It’s not an excuse for them to be unsafe … just an honest warning.

  • Alan says:

    @Scott

    “Don’t blame the VEHICLE (whatever its type) for the accident (unless, of course, it’s somehow defective).”

    I agree with what you’re saying, but I don’t think anyone is “blaming” hybrid cars. The data fairly conclusively indicates that more collisions are taking place between hybrid electric vehicles and bicycles than between internal combustion powered vehicles and bicycles. The lesson that I take away from this is that we do, in fact, use our eyes and ears, the latter possibly more than we would assume. Being aware of this fact is the first step in adjusting our behavior so that we’re safer riders.

    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @ToddBS

    “Anyway, I’ve harped on this enough. I shall pontificate no longer.”

    Todd, you’re always welcome to “pontificate” here. :-)

    Alan

  • The Opoponax says:

    I drove a Prius for a few months for a job this past summer, and the quietness was definitely noticeable. What was especially noticeable was the way that pedestrians walking in a quiet street or having a casual jaywalk often didn’t notice me, at all, to sometimes comical effect. I once had to idle down a street behind a woman who was inexplicably walking in the road, because she just refused to notice I was there. I didn’t want to honk and scare her, or antagonize her by rolling down the window and yelling. I was on the clock at work and didn’t have anywhere pressing I had to be. So I just toodled along behind her until she finally got out of the street.

    I can imagine that a more aggressive driver who was trying to get somewhere in a hurry and was less respectful of livable streets could easily hit someone in a situation like that.

  • Capateto says:

    My wife and I (both cyclists) own a Prius, and we noticed this phenomenon early on; we live in the NYC metro area and are in the city quite often, and I can’t tell you the number of times a pedestrian has nearly stepped into our path. It doesn’t happen as often with bicycles, but just as a precaution I try to always give the horn three light staccato taps before I pass a rider who’s in an on-street bike path, and I gladly suffer the angry horns behind me to let a cyclist enter a turn ahead of me.

    But the real danger is when I come up against a scofflaw who has whipped around a corner at top speed to travel against the flow of traffic — one guy this summer struck my mirror with his shoulder. No damage to the mirror since it’s on a hinge, but I’m sure his shoulder was black and blue the next day.

  • Crosius says:

    If I’m on the road on my bike, chances are good that I’m going fast enough that the wind noise in my ears will be loud enough to hide most engine noise. Exceptions would be large diesel vehicles (trucks and busses), poorly-tuned cars and “tuned-up” vehicles. I usually see an overtaking car in my mirror long before I can hear any noise it’s making. It’s not going to make me any safer if electric cars are making Jetson-style burbles as they go. The only thing that can reliably make being on the road more safe for me is _me_.

  • Norm says:

    I have a Prius and find the visiblity very poor for me. I am 6’1″ and find the sloping windshield side pillars seem to leave huge blind spots. The interior rear view mirror also seems to be in a spot that blocks things I need to see. So when I drive this car I have to move my body and head around alot to make sure I am safe. As far as noise goes, unless you are going pretty slow and in full electric mode the tires make quite a bit of noise. When the car is in that stealth mode, you are going pretty slowly so you should be able to avoid pedestrians at that speed. When I am overtaken by a Prius when I am on my bike I can not tell if the engine is running or not because of all the vehicle noise of rushing air, tires.

  • Adrienne says:

    I drive my Mother’s Prius sometimes. I always want to put a bicycle bell on it to warn people I am coming. I hate how riders flinch when I pass them because they do not hear it coming up from behind, and I give riders a wide berth. In a busy city, with lots of road noise, a Prius just does not register. I know I have been surprised by them many, many times

  • Nick says:

    Erratum: “In a parking lot, EVERY car is a potential “backing up” accident waiting to happen.”

    Immo: “EVERY car is a potential accident waiting to happen.”

    Kidding aside, the same phenomenon can be seen with bicycles. Ringing your bell to alert a pedestrian you will be passing is fine—sometimes appreciated, sometimes not—but the other sounds of a bicycle are useful also. I love the stealth of my fixed gear bike that is virtually silent but I notice different behaviour by people around me than when I’m riding my derailleur. The click click click is useful to make your presence known in a crowded space where constantly bell ringing would be invasive. Fortunately, the sound of 100 clicking freewheels isn’t nearly as invasive to our acoustic space as the sound of 100 exploding engines.

    Alan is right: we do use our eyes and our ears. The faster you go the more sound seems to be necessary to make sure other people know you are coming and putting them in danger.

  • Neil says:

    Perhaps the drivers of all vehicles should not rely on people they are heading towards being aware they are there. i.e. the drivers should be prepared to avoid the cyclists/pedestrian.

  • Simon Kellett says:

    I have been waiting for this to creep up in the media.
    Often I am cycling along and a pedestrian will step out in front of me without looking. I guess if they heard a car coming they would look. As a cyclist I am either to slow, or more maneuverable so I do not hit them. But I always think that an electric car could easily hit them.

    But perhaps Darwinism will take it’s course over the coming years !!

  • peteathome says:

    We need a law requiring all HEVs to have playing cards in their spokes

  • Ken Sturrock says:

    We have a Prius and it’s comical just how similar it is to riding a bicycle as far as pedestrians go – People wander in front of us all the time without looking.

    Pedestrians, on the whole, are completely without discipline or awareness.

    As a cyclist, I have been surprised by quiet cars, but the cars that snuck up on me haven’t been hybrids, they were “economy cars” during the early 1980s as the last of the classic loud guzzlers were fading out.

  • Warren says:

    Maybe someone said this already (I didn’t have time to read all the previous comments) but to me this study underscores what I have believed all along…

    It wouldn’t matter if you made a car than runs on organic hemp power and has only sweet smelling, pollution free bubbles as it’s exhaust. You’ll still have to figure out a way to deal with all the other “exhaust” from automobiles such as deaths, injuries, social isolation, increased loss of wildlife, increased natural habitat destruction, increased loss of farmland, parking problems, weight related health problems, zoning issues, i could go on and on and on….

    Unfortunately, the system is inherently flawed in many, many ways. I only hope that one day soon much of the collective energy that is currently devoted toward more efficient cars will be surpassed by a ground swelling of energy directed towards creating better systems for mass transit, bicycling, and pedestrian travel.

  • Mohjho says:

    I’m not completely convinced of the correlation between Prius cars and pedestrian accidents due to the quiet nature of the vehicle.
    When I first got my Prius, I had this uneasy feeling that bicyclists and pedestrians could not hear me. But now I’m on my second Prius and I see no indication that my car is anymore of a silent threat than any other quiet car. Just my opinion.

  • Stephen says:

    “I’m not completely convinced of the correlation between Prius cars and pedestrian accidents due to the quiet nature of the vehicle.”

    I’m sure what Mohjho meant to say is causation. Or, in other words, correlation does not equal causation. Regardless, they are quiet, which is wonderful. But bikes and peds need to do a better job of being aware of their surroundings, or us Prius owners are going to wake up and find those cheezy plastic “deer whistles” glued all over our cars. (And do those actually make noise at low speeds?)

  • The Opoponax says:

    “just as a precaution I try to always give the horn three light staccato taps before I pass a rider who’s in an on-street bike path”

    Do not EVER honk your horn at a cyclist sharing the street (bike lane or no bike lane). All it’s going to do is startle us or even potentially antagonize us, as that’s what road raging bullies tend to do. The vast majority of city cyclists are used to being passed at safe distances by cars, and the newbies among us need to get used to that sooner or later. If you do not have room to pass safely, please slow down until the way is clear.

    If you are approaching with any speed, we can most likely hear you already — after just a few months of riding in city traffic, I can usually even guess the size and type of vehicle coming up behind me.

  • Capateto says:

    @Opoponax: Road-raging bullies lean on horns; they do not lightly tap on them. I tap the horn in short bleats to indicate I’m behind the cyclist, usually when we’re both traveling at less than 20 mph and while I’m still a good 50 feet or so behind. I also do it when a rider beside me is coming up to a vehicle blocking the bike lane; it’s a way of letting that rider know that I am ceding the lane so he/she can get around the illegal obstacle. In the three years that I’ve owned the car, I have never had this signal misinterpreted as a gesture of menace.

    I’m curious to know where you are from, Opoponax, and what sort of cretins you find yourself sharing the road with. But we cyclists here in New York City have quite an extensive vocabulary with our horns and bicycle bells, and we can signal anything from “watch out for the truck backing up” to “something just fell off your rack” or even “you’ve just dropped your wallet.” And yes, sometimes the horn says “Pay attention!” But each message has its own sound here, and I hope it will not outrage you too much to know that I intend to keep using my softly tapped horn as a signal to riders because so far, it appears to meet with their appreciation.
    ———————————————————————–

  • ToddBS says:

    @Capateto

    I don’t know where he is from but I can agree with him. Outside of major cities, where car horns are like the official instrument, if you honk at someone you generally are expressing displeasure with that person. Here in Florida if someone honks at me they usually get a finger in response. That sounds bad, but to put it in perspective I’ve been honked at exactly one time in probably the last 6 months.

  • Capateto says:

    @ToddBS: So perhaps there’s a urban/suburban rift with the horn-honking, then. The context for me is that the cyclist is usually experiencing a million things all at once on any given block of city street — cars pulling in and out of parking spots, vehicles (usually but not always taxis) pulling into the bike lane to unload or pick up passengers, other cyclists suddenly appearing in the bike lane and traveling against the flow of traffic (especially startling when they were going against traffic flow on the street they’ve just turned off of, as well), etc.

    I imagine that on less-congested streets, I would probably do better to fall in line behind the cyclist, then roll my window down and wait for the rider to look behind him/her, at which point I could just wave them ahead. But in Manhattan the cyclist doesn’t usually have a lot of time to look behind him, and when that cyclist is me, I rely a good deal on my hearing as well as my vision.

    I honestly don’t see where it’s any different from a cyclist who’s about to overtake another cyclist yelling out “Hold your line” or “On your left” just as he overtakes the slower rider — it’s simply something that riders become accustomed to if they ride on the city’s streets, the same way drivers here are getting more and more accustomed to looking for a bicycle before they start to make a turn or to look for the riders coming against the flow of traffic.

    You get thick-skinned pretty quickly up here; either that or you move to the ‘burbs.

  • cb says:

    I agree with the No Honking sentiments.

    There’s no inflection with car horns. At least when you’re on a bicycle and are on the receiving end.

    You can have the best of intentions, and you can try to convey layered depths of meaning in your honks, but as a cyclist amidst traffic, my interpretation will always be that of pending doom and imminent disaster.

    It’s always a cause for alarm.

    I ride in fairly dense urban traffic, and I rely on my hearing a lot too. Hearing a car approaching from behind tends to be sufficient. (Unless it’s a sneaky, murderous Prius.) No honking necessary.

    Or welcomed.

  • Capateto says:

    @cb: The whole point of my initial comment is that I am in precisely that “sneaky, murderous Prius” and have on several occasions realized that the rider ahead of or beside me has not realized that my vehicle was there.

    At speeds of less than 20 mph the Prius is almost silent, and the rider probably hasn’t heard my tires rubbing on asphalt over the sound of his/her own tires or the click of the gears/whoosh of the spokes. Add to that the fact that on some streets, the vehicle lane and bike lane are each so narrow and then so close together that the rider runs the risk of smacking an elbow on the mirror of a moving vehicle simply by drifting toward the outer edge of the designated bike lane (never mind having to exit the bike lane altogether to avoid broken glass or the pain-in-the-@$$ vehicle that decided to park there).

    Car horns do indeed have inflection, and when you hear them all day long (whether or not directed at you, sometimes not even on the same street as you) it becomes as much a part of the backdrop as does the sound of wind through drying leaves in early autumn or the sound of ocean waves striking rocky coastline. (Yes, it makes me sad to say that, but it’s true.)

    It would be interesting to take a poll based on this discussion to get a clearer idea of just exactly where cyclists and cyclist-friendly automobile drivers stand on this matter. Anybody have any idea how we could go about doing that?

  • cb says:

    @Capateto
    I didn’t want to directly engage you, because I know you’re in a Prius. And you said you give a honk from an appropriate distance. (I’m imagining your warning as a quick, staccato “be-dip!”)

    So I think I reluctantly see you as an acceptable exception to the No Honking rule, by which I still stand steadfast.

    The thing is, I’ve been on the receiving end of “friendly” honks from friends. In the moment, they startled and scared me. I didn’t, and I don’t, appreciate them.

    Now, I bike in Denver. It’s a large medium-sized city. Definitely not New York. So maybe I’m just not versed in car horn!

    Perhaps if I lived and commuted in a large city, I would change my stance.

    But, good idea on the poll.

    Yo, EcoVelo! Can you post something like that?

  • Capateto says:

    @cb:

    A staccato “be-dip!” is exactly the sound I mean, but I think it’s also important to take into account the urban density of Manhattan. It’s not that Denver is a smaller city, but that it’s more spread out than Manhattan (about 8 million people sharing an island only 13 miles long and about 5 miles at its widest point). To my knowledge, I have never startled a cyclist with my light tap of the horn, but I *HAVE* seen a cyclist almost fall over when she looked over her shoulder to swerve out of a bike-lane obstacle and then saw my car right next to her. (I caught up to her at the red light and apologized for “sneaking up on you.” she just laughed and rode on her merry way.)

    But I see your point (and that of others here) that context is everything and the Horn Honking should not be used on less-densely traveled streets.

  • Alan says:

    “Yo, EcoVelo! Can you post something like that?”

    I’ve never been big on polls, but I’ll look into it.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Capateto says:

    Thanks, Alan.

    @Adrienne: What do you do to compensate for the Prius’ silence?

  • Alan says:

    OK folks, I’m working on setting up a poll about horn honking. Let me know how you’d like me to frame the question…

    Alan

  • cb says:

    “Hey cyclists! If things are noisy (heavy traffic, rain, etc.) do you appreciate a car announcing its presence as it approaches?”

    Or something.

    Maybe better: “Hey cyclists! Under what circumstances would you appreciate a little honk-honk from a motorist, letting you know he’s approaching?”

    Or something.

  • Alan says:

    Thanks CB. I had PollDaddy running tonight, but I’m getting PHP errors now, so I’ll have to either troubleshoot the code or try a different poll plugin. I’ll probably have something working tomorrow.

    Alan

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » Poll: Horn Honking says:

    […] to the discussion under yesterday’s “Quiet Killers?” post. Please read the comment thread before […]

  • Alan says:

    OK, the poll is live…

    http://www.ecovelo.info/2009/09/30/poll-horn-honking/

  • The Opoponax says:

    “I’m curious to know where you are from, Opoponax, and what sort of cretins you find yourself sharing the road with. But we cyclists here in New York City have quite an extensive vocabulary with our horns and bicycle bells, and we can signal anything from “watch out for the truck backing up” to “something just fell off your rack” or even “you’ve just dropped your wallet.””

    I live in New York, too, actually. And even though I get that sometimes the drivers honking don’t intend to be hostile, it still just always seems like a pointless waste of time since only about 2 or 3 things can possibly be communicated (“I’m an asshole with road rage”, “OMG I’VE LOST CONTROL OF THE VEHICLE GET OUT OF MY WAY NOW”, and “hunh, I wonder why that dude is honking at me?”). Sure, I can probably tell the difference between a “respectful” tap and a bully leaning on the horn, but seriously, just don’t. You’re really not communicating as much as you think you are, and it’s not accomplishing anything but making you somehow feel better about yourself.

    The bottom line is that it’s an unnecessary faux-courtesy. We know there are cars on the road. We’re not stupid. Just pass at a safe distance and you’ve covered your bases.

  • The Opoponax says:

    “The context for me is that the cyclist is usually experiencing a million things all at once on any given block of city street — cars pulling in and out of parking spots, vehicles (usually but not always taxis) pulling into the bike lane to unload or pick up passengers, other cyclists suddenly appearing in the bike lane and traveling against the flow of traffic (especially startling when they were going against traffic flow on the street they’ve just turned off of, as well), etc.”

    Exactly. Why take up even more of my mental space by honking? The best case scenario is that I’m going to break my concentration on the important stuff to wonder, “hm, I wonder what that’s about?”

    I’m a big girl. I knew what I was getting into when I brought my bike into the street. Chances are, I’m more aware of what traffic is doing than you are, because I have much better visibility (and audibility, though I’m not sure that’s a word) on a bike than you do in your car. I don’t need you honking at me trying to communicate god-knows-what. I mean, maybe, if you can see that I’m about to have a near death experience that you are absolutely certain I’m not aware of, sure, honk. But “I’m going to pass you now” is not that kind of situation.

    “I would probably do better to fall in line behind the cyclist, then roll my window down and wait for the rider to look behind him/her, at which point I could just wave them ahead.”

    It’s not really that complicated. Just pass, or if you don’t think you can do so at a safe distance, do not pass. Either pass or don’t. We don’t need to chat about it. You don’t need to grant me permission to occupy the space in front of you on the road. Again, basically all cyclists know there are cars in the street.

    “I honestly don’t see where it’s any different from a cyclist who’s about to overtake another cyclist yelling out “Hold your line” or “On your left””

    1. It’s different because people on bikes can speak to each other with words, whereas you are under the impression that a car horn is going to impart complex shades of meaning.

    2. The “ON YOUR LEFT!” folks annoy me a little, to be honest. If you’re such a bike ninja that you’re slaloming past scores of people silently and at high speeds, get a bell. Also, it’s kind of like the car thing – either pass me or don’t. If it’s not safe for you to pass, slow down and wait until it is.

    “Add to that the fact that on some streets, the vehicle lane and bike lane are each so narrow and then so close together that the rider runs the risk of smacking an elbow on the mirror of a moving vehicle”

    If this is happening to you as a driver, the problem is not that your car is too quiet, the problem is that you’re following too close.

    Regarding pulling out of a bike lane to go around a parked car – non-suicidal cyclists look before we dart into traffic. And, yes, if someone doesn’t appear to do so and you are on the verge of hitting them, by all means HONK! or better yet, slow down and don’t hit them.

    “when you hear them all day long (whether or not directed at you, sometimes not even on the same street as you) it becomes as much a part of the backdrop as does the sound of wind through drying leaves in early autumn or the sound of ocean waves striking rocky coastline.”

    On a bike, very little “fades into the background”. If I hear honking nearby, I assume trouble. Not that someone is trying to tell me my hair looks especially pretty today.

  • Capateto says:

    @Opoponax:

    Where and what are you riding in NYC? (Please say you’re not one of those BillyBurg faux-hipsters on a fixie.) The riding and driving I’m describing (I do both, BTW) is in lower Manhattan, usually south of 23rd Street. I’m especially referring to the bike lanes on Prince Street, Lafayette Street, 9th and 10th streets, 20th and 21st streets, and the two bike lanes on Second Avenue south of East 14th Street.

    I’m not looking to chat with the cyclist. I *AM* looking not to have another rider bounce off the side of my car and almost end up underneath my wheels because he didn’t realize the Prius was beside him before he tried to swerve out of the bike lane and into the automobile lane to avoid some broken glass he didn’t see until the last minute. (Happened last summer; rider was OK in the end but very shaken, and it seems his helmet straps obstructed his peripheral view.) Driving behind a rider is a no-brainer, but drivers often find themselves right next to bike riders on those narrow cross-streets.

    Maybe it is about making me feel better about myself, but the point is that it does, and with or without your permission, I will continue to bleat the horn if and when I feel the situation warrants it. The rider who appreciates the gesture (about 43% according to Alan’s poll) might wave in acknowledgment; for those who don’t like it, well, you said it yourself: you’re a big girl. You won’t be the first or the last to flip her middle finger at me, and I asssure I will have gotten over it before I’ve reached the next intersection.

  • Perry says:

    It’s no problem if you actually use your eyes to look (apologies to blind people, but I am sure they have their own ways of coping with traffic). Yes, these cars are quiet (but not silent). There are many of them around my town so after I first noticed how quieter they are than most cars, I learned to look for the stealth cars a bit more aggressively. Also, mirrors for bikes. I have two and I use them. So, I don’t need the horn but if you lean on it, I won’t get agitated about it either.

  • The Opoponax says:

    “I *AM* looking not to have another rider bounce off the side of my car and almost end up underneath my wheels because he didn’t realize the Prius was beside him before he tried to swerve out of the bike lane and into the automobile lane to avoid some broken glass he didn’t see until the last minute.”

    If you risk a bicyclist bouncing off the side of your car when they dodge a small obstacle in the street, you are too close. New York is one of the few cities in the US where one does not need to drive to get around, and Manhattan below 23rd street is EXTREMELY walkable and well served by public transit. If you do not know how to drive properly, you really have no excuse being on the road.

    Not to mention that, yes, a cyclist about to hit your car when they swerve suddenly *is* a potential emergency, and honking is fine. You just don’t need to do it every time you encounter a cyclist. Cyclists riding in the street in lower Manhattan are well aware that they are sharing the road with cars.

    In months of riding all over NYC, and presumably sharing the road with plenty of Priuses, I honestly haven’t noticed them being problemmatically quiet. Having driven a Prius around the city, I find it pretty easy to tell when a cyclist or pedestrian doesn’t know I’m there, and it’s pretty easy to avoid accidentally running them over.

  • Capateto says:

    @Opoponax:

    I guess this is just one of those cases where two forum participants will continue to disagree. In the meantime, if you’re riding your bike in lower Manhattan and a blue Prius pulls up beside you and lightly taps the horn, don’t fret, because it’ll probably be me. :-)

  • cb says:

    I tried to pay close attention on my commute yesterday to the sounds of cars coming up behind me.

    I was passed by–among other things–a blue Prius, a silver Civic, a large pick-up truck, and a white Jeep Cherokee.

    At the speeds at which we were traveling, I could hear the Prius and the Civic as clearly and as loudly as the larger vehicles.

    So in situations outside the densest urban traffic, the kind of which may not even exist in Denver, courtesy honking is unnecessary: your presence is announced adequately by the sound of your approach.

    I think there are few opportunities to be a HEV Ninja here.

  • Kee says:

    I’ve thought that this would happen eventually. In New York City where there’s always a fair amount of noise, I’ve been startled twice by the sudden appearance of a Prius appearing out of nowhere. I was thinking how there should be some sort of noise generator installed on these quiet cars, it could be as simple an idea as a baseball card against spinning spokes or a low whistle, similar to blowing over the top of a bottle. I used to like the sound of the buses that used to have the whistling exhaust that existed for a year or two in NYC back in the early 2000’s.

  • cb says:

    Related post on Tom Vanderbilt’s “Traffic” blog:
    http://www.howwedrive.com/2009/10/09/as-long-as-its-the-right-sound/

  • Capateto says:

    NYTimes.com reports today that manufacturers of plug-in hybrid vehicles are being asked to make them a little noisier:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/14/automobiles/14hybrid.html

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » Another Year Gone By says:

    […] Commented My Stance on Bicycle Helmets (84)Bike Cameras (66)Quiet Killers? (56)Bicycle Helmet Pros & Cons (55)Bicycle Mirror Pros & Cons (54)The Decidedly […]

  • Sweet William says:

    Quoth the Raven

    “I have a Prius and find the visiblity very poor for me. I am 6′1″ and find the sloping windshield side pillars seem to leave huge blind spots”

    And here we have the real problem – Pious drivers can’t see out of their cars.

 
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