The risk of being run over is doubled with electric or hybrid cars compared to gasoline or diesel cars

Pedestrians are twice as likely to be hit by electric or hybrid cars than by gasoline or diesel cars, especially in urban environments, probably because they are quiet and go unnoticed more or because of the type of driver behind the wheel.

A study on the number of pedestrian accidents in Great Britain between 2013 and 2017, published in Journal of Epidemiology & Community Healthconcludes that the risk of being run over was twice as high for electric and hybrid vehicles as for gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Plans to phase out fossil fuel-powered internal combustion engine vehicles and replace them with electric and hybrid electric vehicles represent a historic step to reduce the atmospheric pollution and address the climate emergency.

But all the changes also carry new risks: there are concerns that electric cars be more dangerous for pedestrians because they are quieter. To have data to dispel or confirm these fears, researchers investigated and compared the risks of injury to pedestrians caused by electric and combustion cars in urban and rural environments.

To do this, they carried out a cross-sectional study of pedestrians injured by cars or taxis in Great Britain, as explained in the study, coordinated by Phil J. Edwards, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in the United Kingdom.

To investigate the modifying effects of the environments where crashes occurred, they estimated casualty rates per 100 million miles traveled in electric and conventional vehicles by analyzing mathematical and statistical variables from the Poisson regression modelwhich allows establishing the relationship between a response variable and one or more explanatory variables.

Many times in the real world, once the variables that explain a situation are known, the response variable cannot be predicted accurately. Mathematical regression models make it possible to approximate the response variable by carrying out mathematical calculations from the explanatory variables with a certain error.

Following this methodology, the researchers saw that during the period 2013-2017, the casualty rates per 100 million miles were as follows: 5.16 for electric and hybrid vehicles and 2.40 for gasoline or diesel vehicles, which which indicates that the probability of collision doubles.

“Poisson regression found no evidence that electric vehicles were more dangerous in rural environments, but there is strong evidence that they were three times more dangerous than fossil fuel vehicles in urban environments”the authors point out.

In light of this data, the researchers conclude that electric and hybrid cars pose a greater risk to pedestrians than gasoline or diesel cars in urban environments. This risk must be mitigated as governments phase out gasoline and diesel cars.”

The results tell us that pedestrian collision rates are higher with electric or hybrid cars than with cars with an internal combustion engine, but the study does not explain why these risks are higher.

“The researchers suggest that it could be because Pedestrians do not hear electric cars well in urban environments. It’s certainly a plausible possibility,” he says. Kevin McConway, Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics at the Open Universityon the Science Media Center (SMC) UK platform.

“But there are other possibilities,” he adds. “If electric and hybrid cars drive, on average, differently than other cars, perhaps because are used for different purposes or have different types of conductorthen that could be a reason for the different collision rates, rather than the actual type of propulsion or the sound it makes.”

“The researchers mention that drivers of electric and hybrid cars tend to be younger, and that younger and inexperienced drivers tend to have more collisions, but that is not the only possible reason that does not have to do directly with the type of engine in the car. “This type of research cannot distinguish between all of these possibilities, and so more research would be needed.”

Another possible problem is that the data used is already quite old, from 2013 to 2017, the last available, but since then perhaps pedestrians and drivers have changed their behavior as electric cars have become more common on the roads.

Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. DOI: 10.1136/jech-2024-221902

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