Friday, February 03, 2006

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Blame 'Em

With my increasingly obsessive focus on national politics, I too often dismiss (and therefore don't write about) the news that is reported right here in my own Bay Area back yard.

Like today's banner article in the online edition of the San Jose Mercury News, warning us that hybrid automobiles are dangerous -- because they are TOO QUIET.

Yes, that's right. The very low noise put out by hybrid automobiles, which at least here in California are selling gangbusters due to their excellent ULEV ratings despite very disappointing gas mileage, is now being held up as a possible reason *not* to buy them. Apparently, if you are driving one you may become a mass murderer on the highway, whether because someone is blind or, more likely, because folks who don't bother to look crossing the street might step in your path. Or even because you are one of those bonehead drivers that got his license as a birthday present when you turned 16 and therefore doesn't feel obligated to look carefully in all directions before doing things like backing out of a parking space or your driveway, or California stopping through a red.

While I'm certainly sympathetic to the risks of a quiet car to the only two groups that have *any* excuse for not looking at the traffic around them - the sightless and the kindergarten set - you have to wonder what type of mindset would elevate this story front page news despite the quiet little disclaimer buried within it:

Traffic officials and police do not know of any cases in which pedestrians were harmed by the popular hybrids.

Hybrid vehicles have been under almost constant cultural attack since Toyota's Prius went nuclear in terms of sales here in California. They have been accused of being everything from a gas mileage pig-in-a-poke to road status symbols for the guilty well-off (i.e. supposedly those who, like myself, bought the 255HP Accord Hybrid sedan since we prefer our big asses and big families to be comfortable rather than squeezed into 1/2 a car like the Prius). None of that criticism, legitimate or otherwise, has slowed sales - they continue to sell like hotcakes, to the point where hefty dealer markups and waiting lists are common. So I guess now the heavy artillery of guilt is being tried.

If you buy a hybrid, you might kill somebody. (Heaven Forbid that we insist that people drive like they are already supposed to - *defensively*. It's the car that's the problem!).

Of course, coming up with solutions that both protect the defenseless/at risk yet do not discourage hybrid buying requires actually knowing the magnitude of the problems caused by these "quiet killers" known as hybrid vehicles (none of which are as yet known to have actually killed anyone.) Yet, even though the National Federation of the Blind asked NHTSA for a study three years ago to learn exactly that information, according to today's article no study has yet been done. So right now we don't know anything. Well, we don't know anything other than the fact that if we were actually a civilized country we'd already have mandatory audible pedestrian signals at crosswalks, dedicated marked pedestrian crossings and bike lanes on all roads, mall parking lot design that did not routinely put people at risk of their lives (been to Costco lately?) and other low-tech gadgetry designed to highlight the extra risks at places where pedestrian meets automobile.

(Admittedly, none of that helps the kindergarten set, but their risk factor comes from being innocent babies with parents who -- like the retards I saw yesterday allowing three babies, who might have had 12 years between them if you added them up, cross the road at an unsignaled exit ramp on Highway 101 all by themselves at least 50 feet ahead of their parents' snatch range -- don't teach their children about the serious risk to life and limb of carrying their butts off the sidewalk while they are in the cradle. The poor muffins get hit with even the loudest of vehicles.)

But I suspect we won't see these things, not even the study. Why? Because it is easier for American automakers profit margins to jump on the bandwagon of those with legitimate concerns and propagandize about hybrids rather than actually develop hybrids with safety features to protect both the blind and the not-paying-attention. It certainly is more profit-protecting than attempting to match the ULEV rating received by all hybrids, from the teensy weensy Toyota Prius to the Honda Accord Sedan to the big ass Toyota Highlander. American automakers are rapidly becoming dinosaurs in an industry America created because of innovative tunnelvision -- especially when it comes to environmentally friendly vehicles -- yet we are not seeing many articles about that (not even about Ford's layoff of the equivalent of a small American city last month after it decided to destroy rather than market a slew of highly promising electric cars).

But it's front page news here in the Bay Area that our decisions to buy an environmentally improved car might kill someone someday.

I wonder if the San Jose Mercury News, normally a 1/2 way decent paper, felt some pressure from the Ford dealerships at the Palo Alto, Sunnyvale or San Jose Auto Rows, some of the paper's biggest advertisers, to put that news on the front page?


Post a Comment

<< Home