It may sound crazy, but the USDOT has issued a new safety standard that will require all electric and hybrid vehicles to make more noise in order to protect pedestrians. But it really just seems odd—in actuality, the logic behind it's not so strange.
The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently announced that it's going to start requiring all newly manufactured hybrid and electric vehicles to make an audible sound. This will not be a suggestion, but instead a new federal safety standard.
The idea is to help pedestrians detect the presence, direction and location of electric vehicles when they are moving. This is because electric and hybrid vehicles tend to be nearly silent when traveling at low speeds.
The measure is specifically intended to protect those who are blind or have impaired vision; but it will also protect all pedestrians, in general.
The new standard is estimated to prevent about 2,400 pedestrian injuries each year once the standards are in place.
Manufacturers will have until the start of September 2019 to equip all newly manufactured hybrid and electric vehicles with sounds that will meet the new requirement. Half of new hybrid and electric vehicles will need to be in compliance by September 2018.
Why are silent cars a problem?
Electric cars tend to be extremely quiet. The only sounds they really make are from the tires' friction on the road, the air rushing passes the moving mass, and occasionally some whining from the electric engine. If you have ever been in an electric car or been near one when it rolls past you in the Publix parking lot, you probably remember the uncanny nature of the silence.
Some people seem to enjoy the idea of a car that is almost completely silent. Some people tend to miss the low hum and violent roar of a car that screams, “I have power and I'm fast.” Either way, it's hard to debate the fact that silent cars can be even more dangerous for pedestrians than regular cars already are.
The blind community especially has reason to be concerned. After all, they use the sounds of street traffic to know when it's safe to cross a road. Likewise, everyday distractions have increased the number of pedestrian accidents, as people wander around the world staring at their phone or listening to ear buds.
The NHTSA mentions on their website that pedestrians are considerably more likely to be hit by hybrid or electric vehicles than by regular vehicles (those with an internal-combustion engine).
Why are electric cars so silent?
These new concerns about the silence of electric and hybrid cars are mostly concentrated around low speeds. That's because they are particularly quiet when traveling slow, as there is limited air flow, tire friction, or engine movement.
The new standard is not required at higher speeds because tire and wind noise already provide an adequate audible warning to pedestrians.
Adding Sounds is Nothing New
Adding some type of sound to a vehicle in order to warn nearby pedestrians is not a new idea. For example, commercial trucks and construction equipment make a beeping sound when they are reversing to warn people of the coming danger.
Everyone has a horn in their car, and they're not just for ‘screaming' at the person going too slow in front of you. Horns are required in vehicles as a safety measure for drivers to be able to alert pedestrians or another driver that they are there.
What will the audible alert sound like?
According to the MIT Technology Review, some blind people have suggested putting some rocks into the hubcap area. It sounds kind nonsensical at first, but the physics behind hit really does seem like a good idea. First, the rocks would make a sound that everyone could recognize and distinguish. The car would be quiet—as they are already—until the wheels start to roll, at which point the rocks would begin to tumble and make noise. As the vehicle increased speed, so would the tumbling sound of the rocks (or whatever substance would be used). Humans are extremely good at using subtle mathematics to calculate speed from sound. Once the car started moving fast enough, centrifugal force would hold the rocks to the outer edge, halting the tumbling rock sound and allowing the audible movement of the car to take over.
Some car makers have taken this problem as an opportunity to further brand their product, giving their vehicles a distinct sound so they had one more recognizable element.
As I mentioned early, some people want their electric cars to sound like gas engines, to bring back a certain feel. For this reason, that type of sound has always been mentioned among the electric car industry. Some automakers even considered doing this before it was recognized as a problem since they thought consumers might have an issue with how starkly different the new product was.
Some people think that the sounds should be uniform so that people could start to form an association with one type of new sound and a moving vehicle. If the cars could make any sound they want, then it could quickly turn from a solution to a moot point.
In the end, those who wanted the sounds to be different won over the standardized sound proponents. The NHTSA did agree that the emitted noise should allow one to determine that the sound is, in fact, coming from an automobile, its location, the direction it's traveling, and its speed. Whatever the sound is, it should:
Alert those nearby to the presence of an electric or hybrid vehicle.
Help pedestrians to determine where the vehicle is, roughly how fast it is going, and whether it's coming or going.
Not be annoying. As the future progresses, and more electric cars hit the road, it would be nearly impossible to tolerate thousands of cars making all kinds of different buzzes, beeps, vrooms, and screeches. (Contemporary cars are bad enough).
Maintain some standardization. Although the NHTSA may not require one standard sound, it would be in the best interest of everyone to do so. Just as people can recognize the sound of a gasoline engine, people should be able to recognize the sound of a hybrid or electric car in the future.
You can read the entire press release from the US DOT here.
What does the blind the community think about the new standard?
The National Federation of the Blind was very pleased that a sound requirement was issued for electric and hybrid vehicles. This regulation will ensure that blind Americans can continue to safely move about their communities, head to work, walk to school, or shop with friends. Those who see well do not have to be concerned about invisible, silent heaps of metal zooming around them, but the blind do. So if anyone will benefit more than the average pedestrian, it will be the visually impaired community.
Dangers to Pedestrian
Even without nearly-silent cars, pedestrians are still injured and killed routinely by motor vehicles.
Pedestrians include individuals who are walking, jogging, running, or sitting in public. They have every right to be as safe someone who is in a vehicle. They also have a right to be protected from negligent drivers. Unfortunately, many pedestrians are at risk of being involved in traffic accidents. When a multi-thousand-pound vehicle collides with a human body, the results can be disastrous. Injuries ranging from TBIs to back injuries, broken bones to death are all a real possibility when a person and a car go head-on. In fact, 66,000 pedestrians are injured every year as a result of traffic-related injuries. As more cars become silent, that number was only likely to go up; but thanks to the new standards, we can hope this won't be the case.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
If you or a loved one has been injured in a pedestrian accident, be sure to contact an experienced accident attorney as soon as possible. In many cases, you can recover significant compensation for your injuries and other losses associated with the accident. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA has devoted its resources and skills to helping those with specific injuries or accident; pedestrian cases are one of those areas.
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