Regulators Still Pushing Hybrid, Electric Warning Sounds For The Blind

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The debate continues over the danger of electric cars and hybrids to blind pedestrians, as regulators are once again pushing for these vehicles to be fitted with noise-generators.

Advocacy groups for the blind and other research groups suggest the lack of noise from vehicles with electric propulsion could be a danger to those unable to see the vehicle approaching.

Even though research has so far proved inconclusive, the Department of Transportation is pushing for mandatory noise generators.

According to AutoBlogGreen, such a law could have an impact of $100 million on the U.S. economy--though the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that only positive results would come out of such a ruling.

Hybrid cars, which generally run on electricity alone at low speeds, and electric cars which always run silently, have often provoked concerns over those who may not hear them approach--cyclists, children, or the visually impaired.

The U.S. Secretary of Transportation has previously set a deadline of January 2014, by which time a final ruling must be decided upon. The U.S. senate approved such a law back in 2010, and the NHTSA said it would begin working on regulations in July 2011.

Back in 2011, we were able to run an unscientific test of noise generators ourselves--and concluded in that example that it wasn't particularly effective.

There are some noises we'd quite like to hear coming from EVs--but for many, the silence is part of their appeal.

Do you think hybrid and electric cars pose a danger to pedestrians? Leave us your thoughts below.


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Comments (10)
  1. Another example of government fixing a non-problem. Where are the accident statistics? Rather than pollute our environment with more noise, I would rather see (if regulators must) Hybrids and EVs fitted with a low power short range electromagnetic transponder that could trigger an alert in a receiver earpiece worn by those who feel they are at risk.

  2. Mind you, I do think that regulating in this area is a very good idea. Hopefully it will be done right.

    The problem isn't blind people though, they're smart and cautious enough, and try and get their white cane noticed. The thousands of regular Joes walking across parking lots etc. without paying attention are much more at risk IMHO, me included at times.

    On good pavement, at low speed, EVs can really be dead silent. A faint hum, much quieter than any gas engine, something projected only forward, is all it takes to make pedestrians realize that "something" is approaching.

  3. We have laws about excessive noise and this is about too little noise. I guess it has to be just right for the government. For me about the only thing I would like to change on my LEAF is the noise it makes including the backup beeper. I go to work very early and have had some complaints about the noise the car makes while others are trying to sleep. Sometimes it might be good, but I wish I could turn mine off like on the 2010 and 2011 models. And as stated earlier, without any data significantly proving that being silent is an extreme hazard, why fix a problem that may not exist.

  4. Exaggerating much?
    The "going forward" warning sound on the Leaf is so subtle, many people can't hear it unless they're right in front of the car (see the 2nd link from the bottom in the above article), or can't tell whether it's active or not.
    In any case, the car remains tremendously quieter than any ICE.

    I agree that the backup "sonar pings" can sound annoying, but they're still not as loud as a gas engine cranking, some lock/unlock chirps, or even birds. Just less "natural" I guess?
    If really that's a problem, could you park in a way that you can just drive forward from?
    (you can add a "VSP off" button to the 2012 Leaf, but I don't think it affects backup sounds)

  5. I have owned a hybrid vehicle for 10 years and never had a problem. So what makes these do-gooders believe we need to make some foolish law now. It would be more effective to watch where you are driving. Or start enforcing the biggest danger to drivers and pedestrians alike talking on a cell phone while driving.

  6. Maybe instead of "mandating" it, we should offer an option to play certain exotic car's engine sounds... Or even to match the car speed in accerlation... EV drivers can choose Ferrari, Masserati, Porsche...etc.

  7. I can't remember ever hearing about any pedestrian accidents involving a blind person or a hybrid or both. All the accidents you hear about are average people hit by ordinary gasoline powered cars. I'd like to see some evidence proving that there is a growing problem. And with the level of noise on busy streets how can anyone really tell the differences in one car's sound from another? I get the thought behind this and I'm all for it but why fix something that has yet to exist?

  8. Whatever the "solution" is, it should be applied to ALL cars. If a car is "too" quiet, then it shouldn't matter what the propulsion mechanism is.

    But seriously, show that it does any good before implementing it.

  9. Not sure why a blind person would be crossing the street alone if they can't see.... if they do a sound, it should be a bladerunner or jetson's sound...


  10. Oh no! Our roads won't be loud enough now, silly government.

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