Beware the ninja Prius

Silent and possibly deadly, quiet hybrids are gaining a reputation for stealth. Should there be a law?

By Andrew Leonard

Published April 10, 2008 3:21PM (EDT)

The National Federation of the Blind is worried that super-quiet hybrid cars pose a danger to blind pedestrians who depend on their hearing to sense whether a deadly automobile is rushing down the street.

My first impulse, after learning the news that a bill was introduced to Congress on Wednesday that would require the Transportation Department to come up with safety standards for quiet cars, was, like Treehugger, to wonder just how many blind people had been run down by Priuses. But so far, the National Federation of the Blind is unaware of any stealth hybrid fatalities.

So is this another case of perhaps being too careful? Upon reflection, I reconsidered my urge to scoff. Because I remembered that on my weekend bicycle rides in the Berkeley Hills, when I am usually listening attentively to hear whether an automobile is approaching from behind, occasionally I sense what sounds like a gentle breeze approaching, or perhaps the swoop of a hawk.

When, in fact, it is a Prius, sneaking about like a ninja assassin on padded feet, suddenly bursting into my personal space and then accelerating away, leaving no trace, no sign of passage. Was it even there at all?

Luckily, they pose little danger, as nearly all Prius drivers are extraordinarily attentive to cyclist anxieties and give us a wide berth when they pass. But I can understand why a blind person might be nervous.

UPDATE: The comments thread for this post is pretty amusing in general, but prairiejim deserves a special award for this:

In Hawaii, where many jungle fowl wander by the side of the road, the Prius cars are nicknamed "chicken killers". Which begs the question... Why did the chicken cross the road? Because it didn't hear the oncoming Prius.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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