Some of the reasons why some people can’t stand safe, efficient and environmentally friendly cars
By Jennifer Hadley 08/01/2013
A little over five years ago, I wrote about driving my roommate Andy’s Prius for the first time. My column was titled “From Skeptic to Smitten,” and I wrote about falling in love with the way her little hybrid drove.
Fast forwarding to a couple of weekends ago, I found myself competing in a race course charity event thingy with Andy and her boyfriend, Matt. We were joined by Jill and Justin who drove up from Orange County. I was surprised to see Justin driving a Prius, as the last time I’d seen him he was driving a giant pickup, which he used mainly to haul his surfboard. He was singing the praises of the hybrid.
Specifically, he was in love with the fact that he now spends a grand total of $30 a month on gas. Interestingly, Matt asked if Justin took any flak from people for driving the Prius, which led to our waxing philosophic about how other drivers view hybrid owners. Andy, who is now driving an Explorer, said she misses her Prius, and particularly misses the way other drivers treated her when she had the hybrid. “They always let me in, it seemed like they were more courteous to me when I drove the Prius,” she said.
I couldn’t help but think, “Really?” because the conversation had called into mind an incident Matt, Andy and I had in her Prius back in 2008. We were living in Studio City and were heading to dinner (read: a bar). Andy asked Matt to drive and he said something to the effect of “Seriously? I don’t want to drive this car. People look at me weird.” Sure enough, we weren’t on Ventura Boulevard more than five minutes with Matt at the wheel before a passing car slowed down and the driver leaned out the window and yelled a sexually demeaning slur at Matt. He turned to us and said, “See?”
At the time I thought it funny, because what were the odds that something so incredibly ignorant would fly out of another human being’s mouth? The fact that Matt proved his point and I had the big old pie in my face was funny. But I never knew that “hybrid hate” was a real thing. My curiosity was sufficiently piqued, and after the race I headed to the Internet to do some exploring.
Sure enough, when I typed in “Hybrid Car Owners,” Google suggested “Hybrid Car Owners are Smug.” I clicked the link and was taken to pages with videos of hybrid owners yelling at those not driving hybrids (thetruthaboutcars.com). I found countless stories about “Prius backlash” (Anderson Cooper’s 360 blog), and I found a forum on which Prius owners talked about how others had scoffed at their decision to buy a Prius (www.priuschat.com). Yes, we’re talking grown adults bullying one another over what type of car they drive.
Suffice to say I was stunned. The only time I can recall being annoyed with hybrid drivers is when I see them flick a cigarette butt out the window, as it seems a bit counterintuitive. But I don’t like seeing little balls of fire fly into the environment of kindling that is Southern California in general, regardless of what type of car a person is driving.
The good news that I found was that most of the hybrid hate occurred from 2006-09 and seems to be attributed to the fact that people were initially ticked off that hybrids could use the carpool lane with no passengers. These days, there isn’t as much chatter about being picked on for driving a Prius. And that’s likely due to the increasing number of studies that show drivers of hybrids, according to a 2011 study from the Highway Loss Data Institute, are 25 percent less likely to be injured in a crash than those driving a similar non-hybrid model. Hybrids are by design about 10 percent heavier than similar models on non-hybrid cars, which tend to keep passengers safer.
So why do the haters gotta hate? Beats me. Saving money, reducing your carbon footprint and perhaps keeping Justin’s two young children safer seem like pretty sensible reasons for him to have made the change. Now if only we could change the minds of those who still seem so adverse to the progress we’re making in efficiency, not to mention the environmental and economical advances we are striving toward.
Contact Jennifer Hadley at firstname.lastname@example.org.