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...
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.
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.
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!
I'm ambivalent too. Why do we insist upon increasing the noise of civilization? It's one reason I now live in the country although I was born and raised in a big city.
I suppose one could design noisy tires and wheels for low noise vehicles which would provide a retrofit for quiet hybrids or all electric vehicles rather than adding a speaker and electronics to make additional noise. Will this add yet another vehicle inspection test to check for a properly working anti-stealth noise box?
I can see the lawsuits from the estates of folks run over by vehicles with faulty noise generators! And I can see high paid lawyers winning huge awards from the vehicle operator, owner or manufacturer when the deceased should have taken ownership of blame for not looking both ways.
Might it be better to equip all new vehicles with some sort of RF beacon transponder that could alert deaf, blind or non-observant folks of the proximity of a moving vehicle heading towards them? The pedestrian would wear a small device, maybe incorporated into a wrist watch or cell phone handset that would warn them of approaching moving hazards. And the vehicle driver could also be warned that a deaf or blind pedestrian was lurking between parked vehicles ready to lurch out into the lane of traffic.
Heck, you could also provide dog collars to help reduce the death of pets from being run over by vehicles. And in rural areas the State fish and game departments could put RF collars on the deer herd. Well maybe not, as I'm sure a clever hunter/engineer might use same during hunting season to get the upper hand on bringing home the venison.
If you look at mail order catalogs from outdoors marketers you can find whistles designed to be affixed to motor vehicles with the intention of warning wildlife of your presence. They don't work!
Imagine this scenario. On a street corner an offical from local government department of transprotation is holding a sound pressure meter. But instead of looking for vehicles that are louder than permitted, i.e. a bypassed muffler, they are looking to pull over vehicles that are too quiet!
I commute by bicycle most of the year on roads (no bike lanes here), and from my experience, as Charles has pointed out, the engine noise is not audible on most new cars when they are going at 40 or 50mph. However, I do hear the cars approaching behind me, or rather the tire noise and wind noise the cars are making. Adding extra cost to the cars and extra noise to our cities based on "seems like a good idea" but without actuall data to support the claims, is absurd.
The argument that noisy cars will save lives is just as absurd as motorcyclists that say their loud pipes save lives. I used to have a sport bike (Katana 600) with a very loud pipe and I still had cars that would try to run me off the road because they did not see me or hear me when I was right next to them. Riding that bike or my later quieter bike, there was absolutely no difference in how people didn't pay attention. Making something louder will not substitute for peoples lack of attention.
I agree. When I was kid I was told many many times "look both ways before you cross. These days people walk out in front of your car without even a glance in either direction, Often times with their eyes on their cell phones. Public awareness is the real issue, not the quiet new vehicles.
This isn't *extra* noise as I read it, something I'm not at all fond of; this is making the same amount (more or less) of noise that gasoline engines make. Chuck, the cars are usually doing insane speeds in a 25 mph zone, on a blind curve no less. When I can't hear any coming (I have insanely good hearing), I know it's safe to do my super-fast U-ey. This will help a lot if it lets me hear them. Same goes if I'm in a garage or a parallel parking lot, where it's either hard to see or hear them coming.
A Prius made contact with me in Paris, nobody hurt... but it could have been far worse. This is one of those things that I do not feel ambivalent about. 30 bucks of product cost is a BARGAIN if you want to look at automotive mandates and compare... airbags, seat belts, energy absorbing bumpers, bolster-absorption interior design, recyclability, speed-sensitive features, ABS [I liked 4-wheel non-ABS Disc brakes better]. This one's cheap and effective. I hate regulations as much as the next guy but I don't want to run over blind people either.
I bicycle commute and when I am cruising there is so much wind noise that I can not hear most vehicles coming behind me. When I'm stopped I notice plenty of of tire noise from moving vehicles, and I've noticed that motor vehicles appear to be large enough to trigger visual clues as well.
It does seem to be a mandate without an actual cause. Is there a real danger, or does it just seem to be a good idea to pass legislation just in case it makes us all safer? It's strange how quick our country is to pass legislation on the perceived dangers of motor vehicles and how slow we are to passing legislation elsewhere when thousands of people really are being killed.
I average 18mph (burst of up to 30mph) on a7 mile ride and I have never been unable to hear approaching cars from behind. Do I trust my ears alone? No. But I've never been surprised by Prius, Volt, Tesla Roadster, or any other hybrid or electric vehicles. In biking events or on bike paths I can even hear approaching bicycles from behind (bike chain, wind, and tire noise). So I'm surprised that wind noise overpowers car noises for you.
You can't really protect the stupid. If you could NO ONE would ever be hit by train. No matter how hard you try they will find a way around your protection mechanism. When they make me dictator I will require that bicycles should all be required to have playing cards clothes-pinned to their frames to flap against the spokes.
As I mentioned in my comment "way back," if the expectation is that you must sacrifice the positive features of a car, such as its quietness, to make it safer, then there are no limits to how safe you can make it. You can add two tons of safety equipment so that it can no longer go any faster than 10MPH, and cost $100K.
I work for a company that has 80% blind direct labor. I've been wheeling my Prius around the company for several years without incident. After all, it's always been the driver's responsibility to look out for pedestrians, blind or sighted. It's not appropriate to honk your horn at a pedestrian to have them get out of the way. In effect, that's what they're proposing by including a speaker under the hood.
I hate noise more than most people. And I don't walk along--or drive along--texting or doing anything that distracts me from what's going on around me. But what I think about noise depends on what kind and why it's being made. When it comes to the noise generated by combustion engines, we've all gotten used to certain levels telling us that a very large dangerous machine is nearby, one that could kill us. Then there's also the consideration that not all of us pedestrians are young adults who are energetic and capable of sprinting out of the way. Some of us all little kids, some of us are old folks, and some of us are in wheelchairs.
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.
For years the goal was to make cars quieter. Environmental noise pollution is real and persistent. And now the NHTSA want to make our cars noisy?! Completely ridiculous. If you care about quiet, voice your opposition to this rule at:
Hi. I was ready to call the NHTSA some choice names but I see my fellow EEs have taken care of that. Ok I can't help it: this is stupid!
First was the equally idiotic daylight running lights because we were already too distracted to notice the oncoming car. Now, after improving our cars to make them as quiet as possible, we need to add the noise back in.
Really? What's next, the horn will be always on as soon as you start the car? Every car must have a disco ball install on top to project flashing beams out and be noticed? Large trees will be fitted with 150dB sirens to warn us they're there! Noise cancelling headsets will be reversed to amplify every minute sound around us. People will be made to wear whoopee cushions under their shoes so they make noise with every step... god forbid someone might bump into another while walking.
Idiotic safety regulations predate the always on headlight by a few decades! You might be too young to remember the dual volume level car horn. But indeed there was an ordinance passed in some States that required vehicles to have a horn with two volume settings.
Okay, so this could make some sense to reduce noise pollution, if only it wasn't bass ackwards.
You see, the motor vehicle rule was thus. In the city you had to use the low setting for your car horn. In the country you were supposed to use the loud setting!!!!???? The concept was to reduce noise pollution levels in our cities.
You do realize that with the city's much higher ambient noise floor due to all manners of noise generation, density of people, elevated rapid transit trains, construction noise, you really need to keep the vehicle horn loud enough to be heard in a sufficent intensity to shout out its intended warning.
In the countryside a much softer horn would suffice and would be in better keeping with the character of the location.
And yes there were more avoidable fender benders in town due to inaudible car horns.
Having been almost backed over five times while walking in a somewhat noisy parking structure, this is a welcome idea.
The Prius, which is the car that I usually have problems with, is absolutely silent in reverse. Its backup lights are so focused that you don't see them unless directly behind the vehicle. Flashing side lights might be a good idea here. There is a backup alarm on the Prius but for unknown reasons, it is in the passenger compartment and not outside! If they do put an auditory warning device (the horn?) on EVs, it should have volume controlled in proportion to ambient noise.
My beef is only with backup where the driver may not have the best visibility. In forward, it is the mutual responsibility of the driver to yield to pedestrians and the pedestrian to be aware (ok, maybe that's a reach) of their environment and act accordingly.
btw- loved the comment about baseball cards in the spokes. Took me back to 1955 <smile>.
Car manufacturers are considering making rear video cameras with obstacle alarms standard on future models. With large LCD touch screens becoming the dashboard norm the display device will already be in place and paid for. Some vehicles already have radar devices that will signal the driver and/or apply the brakes upon detection of an imminent collision.
As the baby boomer generation greatly expands the elderly driver population, the need for these additional safety devices and even self driving vehicles will become more evident.
I agree that quiet vehicles, in fact all vehicles, should have rear mounted backup alarms. But that may not reduce the number of children run over by vehicles.
I have a 2012 LEAF wich has a nice beep-beep-beep sound when in reverse. No sound in forward though. I haven't had a problem yet but I appreciate the needs of the hard-of-hearing as we will all be that some day.
Since a safe sound is important for all cars, don't single out particular vehicle types. Just state the minimum sound level for all cars under 15 MPH that meets some 99% of peoples needs. Any car coasting to a stop can be as quiet now as an EV.
Also since loud sounds are much more of problem, mandate the max vehicle noise level for all vehicles at any speed. High noise affects everyone.
I'm concerned that, if they single out (H)EVs, rather than just making a general, minimum-sound-level law (which I also question the value of), then (H)EVs will end up being artificially noiser than gasoline vehicles!
Anyway, this appears to be where to comment upon this to the task panel investigating it:
Backup audible warning is already implemented on most trucks, commercial vehicles, municipal vehicles, etc. That is not a bad idea; the driver has limited view, and risk is higher. But that is totally different than always on noise generators.
Speaking as a hybrid driver, I find this really annoying, since their quietness is a valuable feature. Also, there's no limit to how safe you can make a car, by reducing features. You can make it noisy like this, and then give it 2000lbs of safety features until it gets 5MPG and can't drive any faster than 10MPH! Plus, there wouldn't be any on the road anyway, because nobody could afford it. Thatwould be a very safevehicle!
The main thing that I think is "all wrong" about this is that they're addressing (H)EVs rather than the problem itself. They shouldn't cite (H)EVs, or even any particular speed range, and instead just say "no vehicle should be quieter than <N>dB." No value in tying it to any particular drive-train technology.
I read through the press release. There is a lot of information that supports needing this.
Anecdotally, many in my area been hit by EVs and hybrids. As pedestrians, we rely on audible cues, such as deceleration, to determine safety. That's missing from EVs and Hybrids, leaving pedestrians and cyclists to completely rely on the driving skills and attentiveness of the person behind the wheel.
A Prius doesn't need to sound like a Harley to get someone's attention. There's a solution here if the emotion is taken out of the discussion.
Again, I don't see any point in singling out (H)EVs here. Just legislate that vehicles should be no quieter than <N>dB. They should target the problem they're trying to address, not (H)EVs in particular.
I also find it ... odd ... that they seem to be imagining that all noise from a vehicle comes from the engine. Tire noise and air conditioners are at least as noisy as an idling engine on most small passenger cars.
The 1865 act required all road locomotives, which included automobiles, to travel at a maximum of 4 mph (6 km/h) in the country and 2 mph (3 km/h) in towns and have a crew of three travel, one of whom should carry a red flag walking 60 yards (55 m) ahead of each vehicle.
It's been interesting to see all the comments about this! Obviously it's struck a nerve...and danger aside, I'm happy to see a number of people less than thrilled about the idea of noisier hybrids and EVs. There has to be a better solution.
I'm really not a a fan of making personal responsibiliy everyone elses problem.
This creates the complicity that feeds back on itself perpetuating the problems.
You're supposed to LOOK before crossing the street. How will this work for a deaf person? How will this work for someone wearing a headset and listening to an MP3 player? No matter how, it should not be the responsibily of the vehichle manufacturer....
We are used to vehicles that make noise so now we HAVE to make noisy vehicles? If we can get used to vehicles that make less noise, Darwin will prevail.
Believe me. I get it. But how much noise it too much? If all the other vehicles on the road were quieter, I don't think this would be a problem.
Believe it or not, oldpartsnrust, there was a movie called "The Dilemma" with Vince Vaughn where the main characters do the very thing you've described. They develop a way to make an electric car sound exactly like an old-fashioned muscle car.
I can certainly understand the need for this. I have an issue with hearing and EVs, depending upon the model, are almost "nonexistant" when unseen. In the work I do on a daily basis; i.e. gas combustion, its'a know fact that natural gas is oderless so, an oderant is added for detection. Very same principal as Charles has mentioned. The automakers are definitely following the logical path, even if my mandate.
Hoof Beats? Really? At 15 MPH or less? If Mercedes-Benz can make sensors that allow a vehicle to stop short of a vehicle stopped or to maintain distance during cruising, why can't the same sensor array be used to flash headlights or the audible double honk warning prior to the vehicle stopping on it's own. For that matter, how about day/night vision that compares digitally comparative movement from outside of the planned vehicle path based upon steering position. Making noise to prevent accidents is like putting playing cards into the spokes of my bicycle, it might keep those with hearing out of the way, but what about grandma or the late night pub crawler?
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