I'd like to think that hybrids can play a constructive role in a balanced transportation system. However, a report I recently noticed from NHTSA kind of threw a bucket of cold water on that, for now at least.
What's the solution? The Nissan Leaf may be pointing the way with an artificial sound system that alerts other road users to the car's presence. Such systems should be tested for their efficacy (and lack of nuisance) and if found effective should be made mandatory by government regulation for all electric and hybrid cars."This study found that pedestrian and bicyclist crashes involving both HEVs [hybrid electric vehicles] and ICE [internal combustion engine] vehicles commonly occurred on roadways, in zones with low speed limits, during daytime and in clear weather, with higher incidence rates for HEVs when compared to ICE vehicles."
"Similar to pedestrians, in crashes that potentially have occurred at very low speed such as when vehicles are turning, slowing, or stopping, backing up, or entering or leaving a parking space, the incidence rate of bicyclist crashes involving HEVs was significantly higher when compared to ICE vehicles."
"In conclusion, this study found that HEVs have a higher incidence rate of pedestrian and bicyclist crashes than do ICE vehicles in certain vehicle maneuvers."
Source: Hanna, Refaat (2009). "Incidence of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Crashes by Hybrid Electric Passenger Vehicles", page 3.
Another point is that it's very difficult to get a handle on the problems caused by cars just by trying to improve the cars themselves. One solution (hybrid drive train) can create another problem (higher pedestrian and cyclist risk). Hence, we shouldn't forget that if we planned our cities well, we wouldn't be so damn dependent on cars in the first place! :)