Nissan Leaf Audio Warnings Disappoints Advocates, Need For Sound Questioned.

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2011 Nissan Leaf spied -- via

2011 Nissan Leaf spied -- via

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Ever think of the benefits of EVs? Aside from the more obvious ones associated with not burning quite as much oil, zero tailpipe emissions and ease of driving many will cite the lack of engine noise.  That last point however, may not be such a benefit to all and may even prove dangerous to those with limited or no sight. To address this issue, Nissan plans to program two audible sounds into its 2011 Leaf to make its ultra-quiet EVs less so.

But with blind activists unhappy with the solution Nissan has engineered to alert pedestrians to the Leaf's presence and many EV advocates unhappy with the concept of making a quiet vehicle loud, what really is the best solution?

2011 Nissan LEAF prototype

2011 Nissan LEAF prototype

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Nissan have been working for three years to develop an audio system to alert pedestrians that the Leaf is approaching. The work, with the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology, resulted in two distinct soundtracks being designed for the Leaf. One to announce a low-speed approach of less than 20 mph, and one to be played when the car reverses.

Somewhat reminiscent of an old-school dial-up modem, or discarded sound effects from the 1980s classic Sci-Fi movie Tron, the Leaf's VSP (Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians) alerts are certainly different.

Nissan claims the engineered noises are distinctive enough to alert the listener that a car is approaching, but to be non-intrusive enough to be used in residential areas.

But advocates at the National Federation of the Blind are unhappy with both the reversing noise from the Leaf, an intermittent beep, and the driver enabled nature of the sound system.  Unless law is passed requiring all EVs to make a noise, it is likely a driver operated mute will be present in the initial Leaf models to disengage the system.

The whole issue of audio warnings has caused many hours of conversation among industry professionals, journalists and EV advocates.

In examining the need for sound generators in EVs, many EV advocates cite the naturally occurring noises associated with EVs, such as motor whine at low speed and tire noise at high speed, as being more than enough to alert most pedestrians to the existence of an EV.

Perhaps a good tactic would be to examine areas of the world where EVs are already high in numbers. The streets of London have been full of small low-speed G-Wizzes for many years now and there are no recorded examples of a G-Wiz hitting a pedestrian.

nissan leaf ev 007

nissan leaf ev 007

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Similarly, with previous EV generations such as the GM EV1 and Toyota RAV4 EV there appear to be no increased casualty numbers from pedestrians walking in front of an EV.

While it is imperative vulnerable pedestrians and road users are protected from being road casualties of quiet car accidents perhaps car companies should look elsewhere first and be reminded that it is the driver who is responsible for the safety of those around them. In addition, silent vehicles have been on the roads for decades without too many issues; bicycles.

Or Nissan could simply do what GM did with the EV1; use a muted horn for warning pedestrians as and when needed that there is an electric car approaching.

Take a listen to this YouTube VSP video and decide for yourself. We've been told that the actual noise is much quieter than the one in the video.



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Comments (10)
  1. Lets state the REAL reason these noises are being petitioned for, to make EVs sound stupid and embarrassing to drive so EV sales will be hampered! There are PLENTY of lobby group interested in seeing EVs fail.
    All of society can't be held to ransom by government pandering to the disabled. The fact is.... less than 0.3% of the population is legally blind..... meaning their vote simply doesn't count.
    Make it LAW that the blind have to wear dayglow safety vests out in public and leave the 99.7% of us to enjoy quiet cars!

  2. as a bicyclist, i can recall an incident where an edison car passed me (going slow), and i had no idea it was there.
    once the speed gets high enough, it is not needed.
    but i think it is a good idea. especially now when they are new, cuz people simply wont be expecting them.
    is it that hard to design a noise that will alert others without being intrusive to the drivers ?

  3. NO NOISE for EVs !!! In what kind of world are we ? Solidarity with the disabled is necessary but not at an exhorbitant expense of the society, we have to be inventive and not conservative, what about an RF signal for instance ? ....

  4. The only way I'm in favor of EVs making ANY noise at ANY speed is if it's customizable like a phone's ringtone. I envision myself driving through town with my Leaf playing "Move b*tch, get out the way" by Ludacris.

  5. The biggest argument against the noise in my view is that new cars are virtually silent. #2, your argument is pointless. Ive been biking plenty of times and not heard the vehicles coming, small car, newly paved road= silent.

  6. i can hear cars coming. that is the only instance i can recall, being totally surprised. it just seemed to appear out of nowhere.
    the argument certainly isnt "pointless".

  7. Inattentive people will always be at risk around cars, wether they make noise or not. I have numerous times waited patiently for people engrossed in conversations (whether on their cell phones, or with another person) blithely walk in front of me in a regular ICE vehicle, and even if it were a Harley, they still wouldn't have noticed. Making noise to alert pedestrians is unlikely to help out anybody who doesn't check for traffic before walking out into it, be they blind or sighted. I am not aware of any blind people who will just walk out into traffic assuming they won't be hit merely because they have a service dog or white cane. As a matter of self-preservation they will always stop and wait and verify traffic has stopped. People who are on cell phones or otherwise distracted don't take such self-preservation steps, and at that point the car horn is perfectly capable of alerting them to become aware of their Darwinian actions. People walk into the sides of busses because they are inattentive, and you want to tell me the busses are silent?

  8. LOL - i agree there are lots of inattentive people.
    but i think there are still enough who would benefit that it makes sense to have it.
    you guys arent really afraid that adding a bit of noise to the car is gonna hurt sales, are you ?
    if anything, i am more concerned about someone getting hit, complaining that they did not hear the ev, and then having even more stringent rules laid upon it.

  9. #3 JC Jacquemin - I agree. Talk about DUMB!

  10. As a motorcyclist why do we get ticketed for "too loud" mufflers?? Double standard here. The louder the motorcycle the safer it is!!! In fact straight pipes with no dampening should be mandated to save even one life as it is more important than the eardrums of anyone around!!!

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