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.
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.
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.
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.
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 manufacturers add new technologies to their products, designing for compliance becomes more difficult. Prepare for the certification testing process. Otherwise, you increase the risk of discovering a safety issue after a product leaves the assembly line. That will cause significant time-to-market delays, be much costlier to fix, and damage your brand in the eyes of customers.
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