[New-hampshire-students] Fw: Washington Post article on silent cars

Marie Johnson 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...

Washington Post
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.
But how?
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 
at Ford.
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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