Hybrid cars, such as the Toyota Prius and the Ford Fusion, are capable of using electric power instead of burning gasoline to operate. While a hybrid is using electric power, it is a lot quieter. This can create a safety hazard for pedestrians, bike riders, and skateboarders, who may not hear that a car is driving along the road. The federal government passed a law to make hybrid cars louder as part of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010.
The main focus of the law is on helping blind pedestrians. A blind pedestrian can’t see a car coming and is used to hearing vehicles from some distance away. To test the safe distance, scientists measured the distance that a blindfolded pedestrian needed to hear a car coming. According to the National Institutes of Health, an experiment showed that the distance before the person could hear a regular gasoline powered car was 36 feet, and the distance before the person could hear the hybrid running on electricity was 11 feet.
The regulation does not specify the type or volume of noise that the hybrid car should make, other than that blind people should be able to hear it at a distance. A speaker could produce the sound of a normal car engine, which could be as loud as a regular vehicle. The sound system could also make a unique noise, because loud car engines already bother the residents of some areas and the driver might want another car effect for vanity purposes.
Some vehicle buyers purchase hybrid vehicles for their quietness, in addition to their reduced emissions and fuel efficiency. The National Park Service uses hybrid buses to carry tourists around Yosemite. The loud noise of a vehicle engine would upset the birds and other wildlife, and disrupt the vacations of other visitors. The sound volume in a remote area of Yosemite may be as much as 16 times less than the volume in a city.
A national park is much more quiet than a city because of natural selection, according to Carleton University. Animals use up energy by making noise. An animal usually makes noise only to send a message to another animal, such as showing off during a mating ritual or scaring away a predator, and is quiet the rest of the time.
Payback periods for hybrid cars are a popular topic because hybrid cars are well known to have a higher purchase price than cars with standard engines. Typical calculations use the sales price of the hybrid, as well as the cost of gasoline, and possibly state and federal rebates. Hybrids don’t always come out ahead this way. With the addition of some other factors, hybrids provide a much greater cost savings than many consumers think.
Drivers typically purchase a hybrid car for a work commute. One of the perks of owning a hybrid is that some states, such as California, allow the driver to use the carpool lane when driving a hybrid to work. This can save significant amounts of money. Traffic often stalls for long periods of time on freeways, especially in Los Angeles and other large cities. A hybrid car does not burn fuel idling in the other traffic lanes. The driver can also get to work and leave work faster, and more work time often means the driver earns more money.
Hybrid cars are usually higher end than other competitors. Even when a hybrid is the same model as the non hybrid version, it has more expensive parts. This can reduce maintenance and provide other quality improvements, since the manufacturer is not as concerned with buying the cheapest items possible. A hybrid car is often the top of the line version of a car model and includes navigation, fuel monitoring, and communication systems which would cost additional money to add to another car.
Some employers and government agencies provide benefits to hybrid car owners. Like the carpool lane, these perks can save the driver time. For example, the hybrid car owner may get the parking spots close to the building. Cities may reduce or even eliminate parking fees and tolls for drivers of hybrid vehicles.
Hybrid car owners may receive reductions in their car insurance. Hybrid Travelers claims a ten percent discount for drivers who insure a hybrid vehicle, under certain conditions. Travelers also provides a discount for hybrid boats, so be sure to check for discounts for hybrid vehicles other than cars.
Hybrid car owners receive tax credits for driving a hybrid. Drivers should know that the tax credits are meant as a manufacturer incentive to produce hybrids, and gradually phase out as a specific manufacturer gets more hybrid vehicles on the road. This means that a car buyer will receive a larger tax break for purchasing a hybrid made by a manufacturer who has not produced hybrids in the past.
After my trip to the Ventura Hall of Justice for jury duty, I noticed the improvements at the court house that improve its energy efficiency and reduce waste. Yesterday, when watching a police car drive down the street, I wondered, how are the police departments implementing environmental initiatives? Will we be seeing hybrid Crown Victorias on our streets soon?
The New York Police Department has now introduced a fleet of hybrid Nissan Altimas as patrol cars for its police force. As I mentioned earlier, the hybrid Altima is a midsize sedan, so it includes enough space to carry two officers and a K-9, or room to carry a captured suspect in the back. Since yesterday’s article was about why the 2010 Ford Fusion is a better buy than the 2010 Nissan Altima, I’d suggest that NYPD switches to Fusions from now on. Both of these vehicles are special hybrid versions of existing models. If Ford can make a hybrid Fusion they can certainly make a hybrid Crown Victoria. And the Crown Victoria does not get great gas mileage, according to Fuel Economy it has 16 city, 24 highway mileage, and the Hybrid Fusion has 36 city, 41 highway mileage.
Some other police departments are switching to hybrid vehicles, although NYPD is one of the largest departments so its selection has a larger impact. Hybrids are not as fast as standard cars, which is probably acceptable in an urban setting but would be a problem in a suburb or a rural area. The city of Takoma Park in Maryland has decided to purchase three of the new Ford Fusions to use as police interceptors. At $20,843 this is a significant discount over the retail price, as the police department buys in volume. The city of Pinecrest in Florida also purchased a Hybrid Fusion for its detective unit, for $24,947, still below MSRP of $27,950.
There are now several makes and models of hybrid cars to choose from. Most of them are compact cars and even some much smaller vehicles. What sets the Altima and Fusion hybrids apart is that they are midsize sedans, so they offer more luxurious seating and more space than the smaller hybrids. They don’t get the 40-50 mpg of some of the smaller vehicles, but they do offer the powerful engines and features comparable to other midsize sedans.
The Ford Fusion Hybrid is a version of the regular Ford Fusion. It gets better mileage than the Altima, with 41 highway and 36 city miles per gallon. The Ford website claims that this vehicle has a range of more than 700 miles, which is also significantly higher than most cars. Like other hybrids, this car has regenerative braking. It can also use the ethanol based flex fuel. MSRP is $27,950 without destination charges of $725, which is higher than the Altima at $26,780.
The Nissan Altima’s combined gas and electric system includes more horsepower, at 198 compared to the Ford Fusion’s 191. Of course, horsepower isn’t the main reason to buy a hybrid in the first place. The Altima’s gas mileage of 35 highway and 33 city miles is significantly lower, which also reduces the driving range. The Altima also suffers from an additional issue; it’s not available in all states, since it is being offered to increase the overall mileage of Nissan’s US vehicle fleet. It doesn’t appear to have any features that are better than the Ford Fusion as far as I can tell.