In an effort to make streets safer for pedestrians, the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) has proposed a rule that could require engineers to add more sound to hybrids and electric vehicles (EVs).
The proposed rule, a follow-on to the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010, would likely require that automakers add external speakers to hybrids and EVs. NHTSA estimates that such speaker systems would add about $30 to the manufacturing cost of the cars, but could prevent about 2,800 injuries over the life of each vehicle model year.
"Our proposal would allow manufacturers the flexibility to design different sounds for different makes and models while still providing an opportunity for pedestrians, bicyclists, and the visually impaired to detect and recognize a vehicle and make a decision about whether it's safe to cross the street," NHTSA administrator David Strickland said in a press release.
Toyota's Prius uses a Vehicle Proximity Notification System under the hood that emits additional engine-like noises below 15mph. (Source: Toyota)
The mandate is the result of numerous studies over the past five years that have shown that the incidence of pedestrian crashes is higher among hybrids and electric cars. A 2009 study from NHTSA conducted on 8,287 hybrids and 559,703 conventional vehicles showed that hybrids were "two times more likely to be involved in a pedestrian crash." Similarly, a study done in Japan at the request of the Japanese Federation of the Blind revealed that more than half the blind respondents were "terrified" of hybrids.
NHTSA's mandate would provide leeway for automakers as to the kinds of sounds, but it does call for them to be detectable under a wide range of street noises and ambient background sounds.
Some hybrids and EVs already incorporate mechanisms for additional sound. Toyota's Prius and RAV EV vehicles, for example, employ a Vehicle Proximity Notification System (VPNS), which is located under the hood and emits sounds at speeds under 15mph. VPNS includes low- and high-frequency sounds that mimic Toyota's internal combustion engines. "It's a retrofitted little speaker behind the front grille," Jana Hartline of Toyota told Design News. "It's not anything that can be heard inside the car, but it is distinctive."
NHTSA said it will give the public 60 days to comment on the proposed mandate. Automakers are expected to work with the agency on the development of a standard. "We've studied it on our own and we will continue to work with NHTSA on it," Hartline said.
Well, I guess I can understand the hazard and why this is a good idea to protect pedestrians. But at the same time, as someone who is sensitive to noise pollution, I think that it would be a GOOD thing for hybrids and EVs to be less noisy than gas-powered autos, not a bad thing. So I actually think it's a shame if something like this rule goes into effect. I certainly don't want people being injured or dying as a result of accidents caused by an inability to hear a hybrid car coming, but shouldn't it just be a sign that maybe people should be more present and pay attention when they're walking and in their every-day life instead of constantly being on the phone or texting or online on a mobile device. Food for thought, anyway.
I think designers have an opportunity to make things amazingly better and safer while leading innovation rather than trailing it and reactivly responding to NHTSA regulations.
I'm a fan of the Toyota Prius, but why does the Vehicle Proximity Notification System (VPNS) use the sound of an internal combustion engine? For me the purr of a well-tuned engine is an attractive sound, not an alarm.
I say the VPNS should not use screeching sirens, chimes, or horn sounds, but what about the sound of a growling bear, roaring lion, or rattle snake? Since we are already instrumenting automobiles with proximity sensors on our way to autonomous vehicles, it should be a simple step to determine a probable pedestrian collision at low speeds and emit the sound of a sharp bark from a large dog -- the pedestrian's autonomic nervous system would engage way before they would make the conscious decision to look up from their texting...
Much as I dislike noise pollution, especially from engines, I'm all for this. Those dang hybrid engines are too quiet! To get out of the driveway on my windy mountain road and go towards civilization, I have to either waste 5 minutes going down to the next side-street to turn around, or make a fast U-turn in the short section between two blind curves. I pick the U-turn every time. I can usually hear when a car's coming--but not lately, with so many quiet hybrid engines.
It is a bit unsettling how quiet these vehicles have become, and I guess one advantage of the noise is that you would know the vehicle is ready to go. It's interesting the a big part of the motivation is to make streets safer for pedestrians. What kind of noise becomes "standard" (if there is such a thing) would be interesting.
I agree, Bill. There must be a more pleasant sound than the growl of an internal combustion engine. A few years ago, automakers were talking about making vehicles ring like a telephone. That never got any traction, though.
If I'm reading this right, this is a really dumb idea. Make extra noise? Are you kidding me? How about we require the driver to blast the radio. What happened to "look both ways befor you cross the stret?"
What ever happened to personal accountability in this country?! This is such a joke. Why wasn't this an issue when the hybrids came out 10 years ago? All of a sudden with the introduction of EVs, it's an issue. A complete joke.
I spent the last 4 days at the Detroit International Auto Show and there are more than a dozen PHEVs and EVs here. The Cadillac ELR (a 2-door sexy Volt) won a design excellence award for the best production car. Anyone doubting this electric revolution in the auto industry better figure it out quick. We're here!
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