[New-hampshire-students] Fw: Washington Post article on silent cars
jomar2000 at comcast.net
Wed Sep 23 15:38:35 UTC 2009
Hello everyone, some of you may have read this already and I apologize for
the cross posting, but for those that haven't...
The Deadly Silence of the Electric Car
Automakers Propose Vroom-Vroom Substitutes to Alert Pedestrians
Byline: Peter Whoriskey
Publication Date: 09/23/2009
Link to Article
After years of trying to make cars sound as if they were riding on air,
engineers are considering how they might bring back some noise. They're
trying to make some of them -- those silent hybrids -- more audible.
A team of engineers developing the Leaf, the forthcoming electric car from
Nissan and a front-runner in the race for a mass-market electric car, have
recently been presenting their ideas for artificial noises to government
officials and focus groups.
Maybe Chime Number 22?
Melody Number 39?
Perhaps a futuristic whirring like the aircraft in 'Blade Runner'? As
hybrids proliferate and major automakers such as Nissan and General Motors
prepare to launch battery electric vehicles next year, some automakers are
seeking to address concerns in the United States and Japan that the nearly
noiseless vehicles may be so quiet that they pose a threat to pedestrians.
At a meeting earlier this month and another over the summer, Nissan
presented the chime, the melody and a futuristic whir to the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has recently gathered evidence
that the vehicles may pose a safety risk.
Regulatory committees in the United States and Japan are also studying
complaints about the cars, and Congress is weighing a measure requiring
vehicles to issue 'non-visual' warnings to pedestrians. 'We are studying
potential artificial noises that can be added to the vehicle,' said Scott
Becker, a Nissan senior vice president.
But the nascent industry is divided over whether safety sounds should be
added to the quiet cars and, if so, what those noises should be. 'Frankly,
we've been working for 30 years to make cars quiet -- never thinking they
could become too quiet,' said Robert Strassburger, vice president for
vehicle safety at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry
group that has been working to address the concerns. But now 'those vehicles
may be difficult to detect.' Hybrid vehicles typically operate on hushed
battery-powered electric motors when idling and traveling at low speeds. At
higher speeds, the noisier internal-combustion engine kicks in. Toyota,
which makes the popular hybrid Prius, a small car that runs very quietly at
low speeds, does not add artificial sounds.
Cars like Tesla's Roadster, Nissan's Leaf and General Motors' Volt, which
will depend on battery electric power, may be even quieter.
Officials at Tesla say they have no intention of implementing 'fake noises.'
The company already makes the $109,000 electric Roadster, a luxury product
popular with eco-conscious celebrity customers. 'We have delivered more than
700 cars, and our customers overwhelmingly say the relative quiet of the
powertrain is one of the most appealing aspects of the car,' said Tesla
spokeswoman Rachel Konrad. 'Thanks to widespread electric vehicle adoption,
we will all enjoy far less noise pollution in the future.' Evidence that the
hybrid sales spurt poses a safety threat has been scant, in part because the
phenomenon is new and the hybrid cars represent only a small fraction of the
more than 230 million vehicles on the road, transportation officials said.
But an as-yet-unreleased NHTSA study of accidents in 12 states compares
accident rates for some hybrid vehicles and their internal combustion engine
Covering more than 8,000 hybrid electric vehicles and nearly 600,000
gasoline-fueled cars, the analysis suggests that during certain low-speed
maneuvers such as turning and backing up, hybrid vehicles are 50 percent
more likely to be involved in an accident with a pedestrian, said Ronald
Medford, acting deputy administrator of NHTSA. 'We certainly know that blind
pedestrians rely heavily on the sound of vehicles as a means of determining
when it is safe to cross the road,' Medford said. 'But all of us are
susceptible.' The potential problem arises at speeds less than 15 mph, when
the electric and hybrid vehicles are notably quiet, almost silent. At higher
speeds, the rush of air and the slap of tires makes the electrics almost as
noisy as their gasoline-powered counterparts.
Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) has introduced a bill that would require the
Department of Transportation to establish a safety standard under which cars
would have to be equipped to issue 'non-visual alerts' so that pedestrians
can determine the vehicle's location, motion and speed.
It has garnered 139 sponsors, among them Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), who says he
has been startled by a quiet car. 'I was down in Florida in the parking lot
of a shopping center, and I was wheeling my groceries with my wife, and I
didn't hear a car come up behind me,' Stearns told reporters. 'If all the
cars are silent in the future, it does pose a problem.' But if electric cars
are to be equipped with sound, there is little agreement over what the sound
should be, how loud it ought to be and whether manufacturers should be
allowed to create their own distinctive audio tracks.
Some automakers are already experimenting with or planning to develop
The Fisker Karma, a luxury electric vehicle, will have an integrated audio
system that will both alert pedestrians and give the car a 'distinctive
audio signature' that will be 'reflective of the car's advanced technology,'
a spokesman said. Officials with the National Federation of the Blind, which
has pressed the safety issue with automakers and regulators, have advocated
that electric cars make sounds similar to those of gas-powered cars.
'Society is conditioned to that sound,' said John Pare, director of
strategic initiatives for the group.
There is some concern that if a variety of noises are permitted, then
electric cars could merely add another layer to the urban cacophony,
potentially conflicting with state and local laws governing decibel levels.
'If we all do it differently, we will confuse the heck out of the
consumer,'' said Nancy Gioia, director of hybrid and sustainable technology
Nissan declined to release the audio tracks being considered but said it
would make its final decision in consultation with regulators.
It is also seeking approval from drivers, some of whom have been fussy about
the various sounds tested. 'They are too flat and irritating in hearing for
more than even five minutes,' one respondent in a Nissan test said.
'Monotonous sound makes me sleepy,' said another.
Said Pare: 'We are certain that there is a safe level of sound that isn't
burdensome to society.'
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