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Hybrid cars safer – and more dangerous

Hybrid cars: Occupants have fewer injuries in crashes than passengers in conventional cars, new study says. But hybrid cars cause more pedestrian accidents.

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For pedestrians, the risk of injury from hybrid cars is 20 percent greater than from conventional gas models. The quiet electric motors, once touted as one of the benefits of the hybrid vehicles, have become a safety hazard for walkers.

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"When hybrids operate in electric-only mode, pedestrians can't hear them approaching," said Matt Moore, vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute and an author of the report. "So they might step out into the roadway without checking first to see what's coming."

This year Congress gave the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety three years to come up with a requirement for equipping hybrids and electric models with sounds to alert unsuspecting pedestrians.

Toyota has already found a solution. The 2012 Toyota Camry hybrid and Prius emit a noise that is similar to the sound of an electric engine that increases in pitch as the car comes closer to an object.

Ford is hard at work trying to find the perfect artificial sound that will alert but not annoy pedestrians when ahybrid is approaching, said Chad D'Arcy, a Focus electrical marketing manager. This summer, the company asked fans on Facebook to pick their favorite sounds out of four options.

Honda hybrids are not as quiet as their competitors' versions, a representative said. Engine noise is mostly present because the 2012 Honda CR-V hybrid and other hybrid models primarily run on the gasoline motor. The battery is there only to assist.

The Toyota Prius and Honda Insight were excluded from the study because the vehicles are sold only ashybrids.