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Are Electric Cars Too Quiet?

Updated on January 29, 2015

A blind person relies on sound to navigate the streets in an urban environment. Yet, after a blind person was hit by an electric car during one early Sunday morning, the silent car became a safety concern. Not hearing any sound on a quiet street, the blind person stepped off the sidewalk at exactly the wrong time. The driver of the electric car had either not been looking or the proximity was simply too close, too late. There have been incidents with bicycles and electric cars- both are silent. The same issue applies to bicycles and pedestrians in urban streets.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is now drafting mandates for car makers of electric cars after a study showed the danger was real. When an electric car is moving at less than 35 mph, they are virtually silent- a silent killer. There is a 37% more chance that a collision with pedestrians and a 66% change of colliding with a bicycle. Because of the study, car makers, starting in 2017, must make electric cars noisier. Ford has taken a poll of four sounds using Facebook to select the most pleasing sound to use with their cars. The Chevy Volt makes a chirping sound when turning, while the Nissan Leaf makes a whirlwind sound going forward and a chirp when in reverse. Audi has been working on the "perfect" sound for three years.

Car makers are not happy about having to now make silent cars noisy. They state that the study used was too small of a sample- only 125 collisions between silent cars and others in 2009. But, with over 1.3 million legally blind people in the USA, the potential is there for a serious safety concern. It is better to side with safety when it comes to vehicles. Adding a simple noise to a silent car can avoid it. The problem is, what sound is not obnoxious to the driver and will it be recognized by a blind a person as an approaching car?

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