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.