[nfb-talk] Hybrid Cars:
kenneth.chrane at verizon.net
Thu Oct 15 22:21:35 UTC 2009
Hybrid Cars May Include Fake Vroom for Safety
By JIM MOTAVALLI
October 14, 2009
New York Times
For decades, automakers have been on a quest to make cars quieter: an
auto that purrs,
and glides almost silently in traffic.
They have finally succeeded. Plug-in hybrid and electric cars, it turns
only reduce air pollution, they cut noise pollution as well with their
motors. But that has created a different problem. They aren't noisy
So safety experts, worried that hybrids pose a threat if pedestrians,
others can't hear them approaching, want automakers to supply some
vroom. Indeed, just as cellphones have ring tones, "car tones" may not
be far behind
- an option for owners of electric vehicles to choose the sound their
Working with Hollywood special-effects wizards, some hybrid auto
companies have started
tinkering in sound studios, rather than machine shops, to customize
The Fisker Karma, an $87,900 plug-in hybrid expected to go on sale next
emit a sound - pumped out of speakers in the bumpers - that the company
Henrik Fisker, describes as "a cross between a starship and a Formula
Nissan is also consulting with the film industry on sounds that could be
by its forthcoming Leaf battery-electric vehicle, while Toyota has been
the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National
Federation of the
Blind and the Society of Automotive Engineers on sounds for electric
"One possibility is choosing your own noise," said Nathalie Bauters, a
for BMW's Mini division, who added that such technology could be added
to one of
BMW's electric vehicles in the future.
The notion that battery E.V.'s and plug-in hybrids might be too quiet
backing in Congress, among federal regulators and on the Internet. The
Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, introduced early this year, would
require a federal
safety standard to protect pedestrians from ultra-quiet cars.
Karen Aldana, a spokeswoman for traffic safety agency, which is also
working on the
issue, said, "We're looking at data on noise and E.V. safety, but
starting to address it voluntarily."
A Toyota spokesman, John Hanson, said: "I don't know of any injuries
related to this,
but it is a concern. We are moving rapidly toward broader use of
in vehicles, and it's a fact that these cars are very quiet and could
pose a risk
to unsighted people."
A study published last year by the University of California, Riverside
by the National Federation of the Blind evaluated the effect of sounds
hybrid and internal-combustion cars traveling at 5 miles per hour.
People listening in a lab could correctly detect a gas-powered car's
it was 28 feet away, but could not hear the arrival of a hybrid
operating in silent
battery mode until it was only seven feet away.
Some electric-vehicle drivers have taken a low-tech approach to alerting
When Paul Scott of Santa Monica, Calif., drives his 2002 Toyota RAV4
he often rolls down the windows along busy streets and turns up his
radio so people
know his virtually silent vehicle is there.
Mr. Scott, vice president of the advocacy group Plug In America, said he
giving drivers control over whether the motor makes noise, unlike, say,
Karma, which will make its warning noise automatically.
"Quiet cars need to stay quiet - we worked so hard to make them that
way," he said.
"It's the driver's responsibility not to hit somebody."
Mr. Scott has already warmed up to the idea of a car ring tone.
"It should be a manually operated noisemaker, a button on the steering
a recording of your choice," he said. "It could play 'In-a-Gadda-Da-
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