Quiet Kills: How Noiseless Hybrids Could Be Dangerous

By Joe Danielson, guest writer

For years, auto manufactures have been on a mission to make cars quieter: a vehicle that glides almost silently in traffic.

They finally did it! Plug-in hybrid and electric cars, it turns out, not only reduce air pollution, they cut noise on the road as well with quiet motors. But that has created a different problem. They aren’t noisy enough.

So the National Traffic Safety Administration, worried that hybrids pose a threat if pedestrians, children and others cant hear them approaching, want automakers to supply some digitally enhanced noise. Just as mobile devices have ring tones, “car tones” may not be far behind an option for owners of electric vehicles to choose the sound their cars emit.

Ray LaHood, a spokesperson for U.S. Transportation, which is also working on the problem, said, “We improve the environment with cleaner cars, we must also consider how it affects those on bikes and on foot,” NHTSA reported.

Those who were lucky enough to test drive a Tesla Roadster also noticed the effects of noiseless cars on the road. The President and Editor-in-Chief of Automobile Magazine, Jamie Kitman, said he recalls how two pedestrians couldn’t hear him approaching when he was behind the wheel of a Roadster, Marketplace.org reported.

I was thinking, ‘God these people are pretending they don’t even hear me coming,’ and sure enough right as I was about to run them over, they turned with a start and ran, Kitman said in the interview with Market Place.

The NHTSA Requirements …

Whether or not automakers choose to add natural-sounding noise to hybrids, the NHTSA requires that battery E.V.s and plug-in hybrids emit some type of noise, whether a beeper or clicking, when traveling slower than 18 mph, car experts reported.

The NHSTA estimates new regulations could prevent as many as 2,800 injuries to cyclists and pedestrians. The change could actually benefit the wallets of E.V.’s and plug-in hybrid car owners, as an auto insurance quote for having one can be higher due to the cost maintenance, could actually drop if safety measures increase. The proposal must go through a 60-day period for commenting and observation before made official, but the finalized version could require all manufacturers to make the changes as early as this year.

Nissan and Ford Automakers …

Nissan took its popular electric vehicle, the Leaf, and gave it sort of a “vroom” sound that keeps the theme of the gasless engine, but still giving pedestrians a warning when it’s near. Ford is taking another angle on the matter and asking for the feedback from fans on what the next electric Focus should sound like. The Ford Facebook page has mixed reviews questioning whether or not the additional noises are even necessary, but the crowdsourcing does give Ford some diverse options to roll with.

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