The Boogeyman in the Hybrid: Top Five Threats

There are more than one million hybrids on American roads—and there’s no sign that the market for fuel-efficient gas-electric vehicles is slowing down. But according to a number of urban myths, the growing fleet of hybrids is actually an evil force ready to inflict great harm to people with pacemakers, blind people, and anybody who dares to sit behind the wheel of a Toyota Prius. Here are the top five safety dangers supposedly posed by hybrids.

5. Hybrids cause pacemakers and defibrillators to stop working.

Dr. Westby G. Fisher, a board certified cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist, answered this concern in his blog. He writes that carmakers recommend that people with pacemakers not get very close [a few inches] to a hybrid engine, but “operating a hybrid car should be quite safe, as long as the operator with a pacemaker or defibrillator does not try to become the mechanic for their own car.”

A senior cariothorasic nurse, posting on PriusChat.com, writes, “You hear a lot of nonsense about the sensitivity of these devices. The engine in the Prius would create a large electromagnetic field, but as long as you don’t hold it in front of your chest you should be fine!” The consensus: Don’t hug your hybrid engine, but otherwise, it’s not an issue. (If you’re still not sure, consult with a physician.)

4. Hybrids are a silent menace to blind people.

Hybrids are very quiet—practically silent at slower speeds. Blind people rely on cars to make at least a little noise to safely cross the street. That awkward combination has created an unexpected tension between the makers of hybrid cars, environmentalists and blind pedestrians.

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is calling on automakers to set a minimum sound standard for hybrids. But the carmakers and others involved with traffic safety are at a loss on how to respond. The Association of International Auto Manufacturers, the Society of Automotive Engineers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Federal Highway Administration are all aware of the problem, but there’s no immediate high-tech solution at hand. In the meantime, how about a low-tech solution, like hybrid drivers paying extra attention to pedestrians crossing the street? When a visually impaired person is in view, the driver can make a little toot on the horn.

3. Hybrids electrocute emergency responders.

In the early days of hybrids, public safety agencies expressed concerns about how to deal with high-voltage battery packs in hybrids. “At this point, it’s totally overemphasized as a hazard,” said Ron Moore, a battalion chief in the McKinney, Texas, fire department, in an article published in the Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Hampton Roads, Va. “There is a potential that we never had before, but the engineers on both Honda and Toyota cars have done such a tremendous job of engineering and safety concerns that if we’re better educated responders, it will be no big deal.”

Knowing a few basic things about hybrids—the location and construction of battery compartments, the color (orange) used to designate high voltage cables, and the location of fuses that will isolate the electrical system—should be enough to help first responders save lives and remain safe in the process.


  • ex-EV1 driver

    “The consensus: Don’t hug your hybrid engine. . . “
    Let me caveat further: . . . or at least don’t hug the engine while it is driving at high speeds (emitting EMF) down the road.

    At a standstill (when it is slightly safer to be hugging your engine) the engine doesn’t emit any EMF.

  • mdensch

    I had to run and check the calendar when I read this one, thought maybe today was April Fools Day.

    I’ve read a lot of foolishness on this site, but this one takes the prize. Can’t imagine why the authors would even entertain such nonsense. No. 4 is especially wacky and I would highly recommend against hugging ANY engine while it’s running, that nasty old radiator fan is liable to cut you in two.

  • Skeptic

    Simple – because people believe it. Remember, folks will believe Saddam bombed the World Trade Center, that fairies and angels exist, that Nixon wasn’t a crook, etc, etc, so why wouldn’t they believe some of this FUD, particularly if a Very Serious Person on the radio or the Tee Vee said it?

  • Boom Boom

    As silly as the allegations are, there are people who still believe them and I think it is useful for a site like this to occasionally put out an article rationally addressing and dismissing the issues.

  • Annoyed

    My question would be why would this site even place these 5 items in print? Regardless of the rebuttals printed, simply putting this stuff into words gives people searching for reasons to hate hybrids, more fodder in their search engines to pick up part of the article, and drop the rest to put a bad light on the whole process. Let’s not help the naysayers out there.

  • Need2Change

    The threats in my mind are:

    1. Gasoline becomes so expensive that no one wants a car with a gasoline engine — even a hybrid.

    2. Battery technology improves such that all electric cars can be bought at hybrid prices that have ranges that exceed 200 miles.

    3. CO2 pollution restrictions outlaw the manufacture of all internal combustion engines.

  • Paul Rivers

    I liked this article. It seemed rather fair and even handed to me.

  • ECD4ME

    I’ve long wondered that so many articles in the automotive press seem hostile to hybrids. I think many who work in the automotive press have spent deecades being wined and dined and playing golf with the marketing people from the big three. I dont think they’ll change till Ford and GM make a serious effort to build and sell hybrids. It seems the models that are offered are made in low quantities mostly for greenwashing.

  • snoopy

    I tested the emf levels in my 07 prius, the highest it recorded was the right rear seat cushion and that was the same amount (35-45) as I read with the meter an inch away from the center of Sony 22″ CRT monitor. However, we did wire our home electrical to confirm to the standards set by the Baubilogie community. The automakers will need to shield their vehicles eventually as more of them produce hybrids or fully electric vehicles, it will be another measure to beat their competitors.
    If you take a reading in the footwell the levels will be nearly the same compared to a standard ICE vehicle.
    I would like for my prius to also run E85 and also convert it to a PriUPS for when the big one hits CA.

  • Andy

    Pointing out problems is a way to justify not having to do anything. My ICE may be bad, but since I can say Hybrid has problems too, I can keep my ICE. It’s a stall tactic.

  • VaPrius

    Threats that didn’t make the list:
    6. Hybrids make people who don’t own a hybrid feel like they’re bad people.

    7. Hybrids make people who don’t own a hybrid sad because of the cost to refuel their vehicles.

    8. Hybrids are tough to beat so truly bad people have to make things up about them.

  • PatrickPunch

    In 1835 when the first train was introduced in Belgium farmers thought trains would cause cows to stop producing milk.

    So history repeats itself once more.

  • Old Bald Guy 2008

    Just imagine the first time a caveman figured out how to put a sharp edged stone on the end of a long straigt stick and throw it to kill an animal for food.

    I can hear his neighbors now … “you will break your teeth eathing that animal because the stone will break up and ruin the meat”

    Forrest Gump was right, “Stupid is as stupid does”

  • Wetdog

    How come no one makes a hyrid with a Flex Fuel recharging engine?

    It seems like the perfect solution to me.

  • Apodemia

    I don’t think the issue of hybrids “sneaking up” on people is at all overblown. Recently my wife – who is not hard of hearing – stepped directly in front of a Prius she didn’t notice coming up behind her. She had suddenly spotted our parked car and made an abrupt turn to walk towards it in what she thought was an empty parking lot. I was there, and pulled her out of the way just in time. It was nobody’s fault, but expecting a driver to anticipate that an adult would suddenly turn and step in front of the vehicle is unreasonable.

    We recently bought a Prius for our daughter and I’m enthralled with it, so it’s not like I’m an anti-hybrid fanatic. I’ve simply learned from personal experience that the silent operation issue is a problem unique to hybrids that needs attention. We all “know” from lifetime experience that vehicles make enough noise for us to detect them without thinking about it, and this new technology has changed the reality.

  • Shines

    Regarding silent hybrids:
    Just put a speaker (like the horn that’s already there) under the front hood and have it humm (how about a nice low A major chord) when the car is moving forward.
    I suppose the govt. would have to pass a law making this a requirement on any motor vehicle that is too quiet.
    Anyway it’s a simple and cheap fix.

  • VaPrius

    How about just playing the radio too loud? People always turn and stare. We could play some really annoying music, or one of Pres. Bush’s speeches.

  • gemspearl

    I’ve been thinking about getting a Hybrid for my next vehicle. I stil hae a lot of questions but some of these myths just mean some people don’t have a life. However, these myths did bring up for me a concern. What about the electricmagnetic field when your filling the car with gas? I’m sure it’s safe but they also tell people not to smoke when fueling, use cell phones or have a lit cigarette around a battery (which doesn’t stop a mechanic).

  • gemspearl

    Hello, I’ve considering getting a Hybrid & regarding the above myths, “some people need a life”. However, it does bring up one for me. How much of a concern should it be regarding the electromagnetic field when your fueling the vehicle? They have signs up to not use cell phones, or smoke when fueling. (See what you all started?) LOL!

  • michael a

    The “urban myths” about hybrids are really the “Conservative Myths” about hybrids.

    I read a blurb somewhere that GM began the original “whispering campaign” against hybrids. And, that GM cleverly chose Conservative Talk Radio as the format to raise doubts about hybrid technology. (Conservatives will believe ANYTHING that is anti-environmental). I would love to see some more in-depth reporting on this. Or maybe, it’s just a Liberal Myth. :-)

  • Daniella

    yah, it jsut a myth

  • mdensch

    Myth Busters did a nice job disproving the story that cell phones cause fires at the gas pump.

    However, they did run across an interesting finding: Gas pump fires DO occur and far more women than men are involved. It seems that the most common cause of gas pump fires is static electricity from sliding out of the car seat. If you get out of the car, close the door, and then pump the gas, you’re fine because you discharged the static when you touched the door frame to close it. BUT, if you leave the door open, start fueling, go back in the car — say to chat on the phone — and THEN go back to the nozzle when it’s done WITHOUT touching the door, you can build up enough of a static charge to ignite the fumes at the filler neck and BOOM.

    And it does happen. Myth Busters proved it.

  • Stan Smart

    I’m a VERY conservative (politically & socially) guy; My wife and I each have
    hybrid cars … Honda and Toyota … have had them for 3+ years … this IS NOT
    a “conservative vs liberal debate”. Even though it seams from your post that you
    have a lot of animosity toward non-liberals.

  • whizkid

    Nonsense! probably another rumor fed by big oil to scare people into throwing their hard-earned cash into their(big oil) pockets. Stop believing everything you hear until it’s been proven and lawsuits start coming out of the woodwork like they do against big medicine and big tobacco.
    Think for yourselves, people!

  • Anonymous

    This made me laugh. Hybrids are a silent menace to blind people? What the hell. I know safety is important but these threats are really nonsense. The comments above are proof of this foolishness. -The Car Resource

  • andrewc

    “If putting a cell phone to your head everyday doesn’t concern you, then driving a hybrid, with shielding against EMFs—shouldn’t keep you up at night.”

    I actually am quite concerned about cellphone radiation and seldom use one for that reason, but how does the engine emit EMF? Isn’t it just mechanical parts powered by electricity from the battery in the back? EM radiation is something that would actually stop me from buying a hybrid or electric car if its true.

  • Anonymous

    This article is great and totally true

  • Jacque LeCock

    Or record any Bill Clinton or Comrade Obama speech and folks will be laughing everytime they hear the BS and lies