Hybrid Vehicles Are Quiet — Maybe Too Quiet, According To A Couple Of Lawmakers

from the danger-will-robinson dept

One of the side effects of hybrid vehicles — a positive one, for most people — is quieter operation traditional vehicles in some situations. Less vehicle noise sounds like a good thing, unless you’re blind, so a couple of senators have introduced legislation that would direct the Department of Transportation to study ways to protect blind people and other pedestrians (via Engadget) from silent vehicles. This isn’t a new complaint: we reported last year about how Lotus was experimenting with putting speakers in hybrids to play engine noises, although we thought it might have been a joke. But apparently Lotus was just ahead of the legislative curve. Still, we have to wonder, is making cars noisier the best way to protect blind people and other pedestrians?

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Comments on “Hybrid Vehicles Are Quiet — Maybe Too Quiet, According To A Couple Of Lawmakers”

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mobiGeek says:

Re: Re:

How about instead having cars throw out silent noise (a radio signal is, after all, just noise) and those who want to hear the noise get a receiver?

In fact, maybe there is no need to build anything into the cars. I have to wonder if an electric motor doesn’t already give off enough noise that a receiver can pick up?

Aaron Martin-Colby (profile) says:


It’s funny, this is the EXACT same criticism levied against electric cars back in the early days of the automobile.

Only then, people argued that quiet cars could sneak up on, and frighten horses.

This guy even went so far as to glue a horse head on the front of the car…


Forrest Gump says:

I almost got hit by a quiet hybrid while out for a run the other day. I was running on an outer road of the highway (with lots of traffic noise) and crossing one of several turn offs into offices & neighborhoods.
I think some kind of courtesy noise would be nice should the need arise that is driver triggered and less scary than a horn. Maybe a Dukes of Hazard horn would be cool though.

Paul G (profile) says:

Re: I almost got hit by a quiet hybrid

Didn’t anyone teach you the basics of crossing? ANYWHERE where there MIGHT be vehicles moving – LOOK.

WTF is wrong with people these days? Doesn’t the natural sense of self preservation work with them any more? No matter where you are or who has the right of way, ALWAYS assume that an ignorant moron is about to do something stupid. With that in mind you are probably going to be prepared.

It is a shame that Darwins natural selection theory hasn’t removed the morons from the gene pool.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: I almost got hit by a quiet hybrid

[quote]It is a shame that Darwins natural selection theory hasn’t removed the morons from the gene pool.[/quote]

Unfortunately, we’ve entirely bypassed natural selection and created an environment where the Darwinian candidates thrive…I like to think of it as devolution through legislation.

Ron says:

Re: Forrest Gump/Almost Hit

So, you almost got hit by a quiet hybrid while you were crossing some roads. Maybe you could have LOOKED before you crossed the road? Quiet cars or not, you still look. Maybe there would have been a bicycle there instead. They make little noise too (and many ride like idiots as well, but that’s a whole other rant). And, for the driver that almost hit you: look where the F*CK you’re driving and have some consideration for others on the road. It could not have been that important that you get past that point that you could not have waited 2 seconds longer for the guy to get across the road.

Emilio says:


Actually, with today’s modern muffler systems, the majority of the noise from a passing car comes from the tires. A Prius passed by me this morning as I was walking to the office, in a speed-bumped drive, so it wasn’t going more than 15 mph or so, and though it was obviously in electric-mode, the amount of noise from its tires meant that it produced about the same level of sound as the combustion-engine cars that immediately preceded and followed it.

If we actually have to produce a certain level of noise by law, some smart-ass lawyers (there certainly seem to be enough of those around…) should be able to sue or something on the basis of damage to your hearing by being forced to expose yourself to a government-mandated level of noise the whole time you are in a car, or a traffic-jam or what-not.

And anyways, aren’t the visually-disadvantaged supposed to develop a heightened sense of hearing?

DJ (profile) says:

Re: Noize

True. Governmentally mandating a decibel MINIMUM makes no sense.
The best solution is education. Educate the blind to properly use crosswalk buttons/seeing-eye dogs/whatever. Educate drivers to be more aware of pedestrians in general. It’s a simple solution, the processes are already in place, and — here’s the clincher — the government stays out of it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Regarding the Loud Pipes Save Lives argument…
I ride and I’ve never run loud pipes – nor have I ever had a bad experience. That’s just my experience though.
My reaction to that, though is –
If loud pipes make riders safer why don’t motorcycle officers run loud pipes? They put on far more miles than casual riders – yet their death and injury rate factored for their time on the road is miniscule by comparison.
When running loud pipes it’s possible to modulate the loudness with gear and throttle choice. Why then is it that most loud pipe riders I encounter take every opportunity to be as loud as possible – even in situations where safety has nothing to do with it….like in a residential area with little or no traffic?

I believe the conclusion is – loud pipes sound good to that rider and to hell with the rest of us who – apparently – just have to endure since motor vehicle silencer laws don’t seem to apply to Harleys.

Anshar (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Maybe there should just be a sound when it is okay to cross the street in conjunction with the “walk” light you see all over now. Then, the blind people can walk across and at that point it’s the drivers’ responsibilities not to hit them. :]”
That’s just absurd. (Shhh… don’t tell all the municipalities that are doing it.) 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hybrids too quiet???

That’s pretty stupid. It should depend on where you hit the person and whether you were being reckless. If you hit them in a crosswalk or off the road somewhere, if you were going significantly over the speed limit etc., you should be at fault if and only if the pedestrian had the right of way. In all other situations, the pedestrian should always be at fault.

cjmpe (profile) says:

Re: Re: Stupid to blame the driver?

You may be unaware of this, but driving a car is a privilege, not a right. It is granted by the state when you have shown competence in the task. As with all privileges it comes with obligations, such as paying attention to the road and surroundings. Pedestrians have a right to be where they are, simply because they don’t require licenses (though maybe I should stop giving idiot politicians ideas)

I’ll ignore the comments about crosswalks and being off the road, since those are self evident to everyone but the police who seem to rarely press appropriate charges, however, most drivers exceed the speed limit whenever they can, so I see no reason why drivers shouldn’t be required to prove that they weren’t exceeding the limit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Stupid to blame the driver?

Whether or not it is a privilege vs. right has nothing to do with the conversation. If a pedestrian gets hit on the road under normal circumstances, it should be presumed that the pedestrian is at fault, and would have to be proved otherwise. Pedestrians do not have the right to be where ever they want to be, and that includes streets outside of designated crosswalks.

Anonymous Coward says:

Honestly, we need less noise, not more. In case you haven’t heard (no pun intended), blind people’s other senses are enhanced, especially hearing. They should be able to hear those cars just fine, unless they’re in an extremely noisy environment. The blind are not necessarily helpless, you know.

dubus123 says:

quiet cars

Ok so you have blind people who ideally aren’t jaywalking. Most major cities have large intersections with beepers that make tones when a cross walk is at a read light and safe to use.
I would guess it would be cheaper to expand on that than to try and retro fit old hybrids and begin manufacturing new ones with such noise makers.
Everyone else should be ok as long as they actually pay attention to their surroundings.

Crabby (profile) says:

Finally, something that doesn’t assault our eardrums, and lawyers want to ruin it. Just how loud will the cars have to be for the idiots on their ipods to hear them, anyways? Yeah, maybe pedestrians should make an effort on their own behalf, if it isn’t too much trouble for them.

Blind people may have a legitimate issue, and certainly their needs should be addressed — but that doesn’t mean deafening everyone in the process! Maybe we can put a sensor in a blind person’s cane to detect cars? Like a mini-radar scope? They could find steps and potholes that way, too.

Bexar says:

Get over it!

“Hybrid Vehicles Are Quiet — Maybe Too Quiet, According To A Couple Of Lawmakers”

Get over it! Most of the motorcycles today are that quiet and have been for some year now. Matter of fact it’s illegal in most states to put a third party muffler system on your bike. A Honda gold wing is a good example of this every thing. The quietest bike on the plant!

asymptote says:

beware of pedestrians

If required to make noise with our hybrid, I would want to play the music from the combat assault scene in Apocalypse Now, from Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.”

Being conscious of our lack of noise, we pay greater attention to pedestrians. Even when driving the old combustion engine car, my assumption is that any pedestrian in range is going to dart out in front of me.

Lee says:

the other way around?

why would you make a silent car pollute the air with noise so blind people can hear it coming. how about adding a sensor in the car that emits a certain frequency and giving blind, or disabled people a device that emits a sound based on what frequency it picks up.

for example a small car travelling at 25 mph, emits a 800 mhz freq, and the same car travelling at 55mph emits a 1600 mhz freq. This way the pedestrian can distinguish what car is coming, and also how fast, through the device they are given.

this can also be added to other things, such as motorcycles, trucks, even street lights so let them know how close they are to the corner.

StereoMike says:

Lets not give in to the stupid, again!

Once again why do we have to succumb to the minority of stupid people. I understand the blind, but honestly in a normal drive that issue is going to be rare.

Some jackass who likes to run in the middle of the road with earphones deserves to be flattened. As well as the biking fool who thinks they can be in the turning lane with the rest of traffic.

Jerry Leichter (profile) says:

Pray you never need to learn how to navigate as a blind person

The self-centeredness of the comments here astound me.

I’m not blind, but I’ve spoken to blind people. Imagine you’re blind and wish to cross a street. Can you tell if there is any traffic? Can you tell what direction the cars are coming from? A blind person with training and experience can easily do both (based on traffic noises) – and *has* to do both. At intersections with traffic lights and beepers, sure, things are easy. But the vast majority of intersections have no traffic lights, and even those with traffic lights rarely have beepers. (And, by the way, the beepers are a hell of a lot louder and more annoying than any sound generator that would be put in cars.) Even if you decided we should spend the money on putting traffic lights at every intersection in the country, how about driveways crossing sidewalks? What happens when cars make turns, crossing over the lanes where walking is allowed?

Really, look up from your perfect little life and consider those who may be less fortunate than you. Or consider yourself in 10, or 20, or 50 years. Think your eyes (and ears and other body parts) will still work as well?

Cars are inherently hazardous to the people in and around them. We accept that as a tradeoff because they are incredibly useful. We’ve spend decades making them safer for the people *in* them, but are only now really starting to look at those outside. Thus, there are standards in the works on bumper heights, so that when you hit another car your bumper doesn’t ride up over the top doing major damage to its occupants. It may not do *you* any good, and no, your Hummer might not looks so cool – but that’s just too bad. There are beginning to be proposals for protecting pedestrians as well. Hell, industrial vehicles have had to have audible alerts when backing up for years.

You want to run your car entirely on private tracks, among people who understand what you’re doing? Fine; build it any way you like. But as soon as you bring it out into public, among your fellow citizens, the rules change. They have every right to demand that you take reasonable steps to protect them from your actions – witting or unwitting.

Dustin (profile) says:

Re: Pray you never need to learn how to navigate as a blind person

I’ll have to remember your arguments the next time I decide to play on railroad tracks.

You are after all complaining because cars, through the physics law of inertia, are both deadly and hard to stop if some idiot steps out into traffic and gets hit. I’m sorry, if some disabled person is too dense to notice the extremely noticeably sound of tires spinning on pavement that’s not our problem. Why am I so callous? Simple, I work around electric vehicles every day. They’re easy to hear, they simply sound different. Their tires aren’t perfectly efficient and they have traction, thus they make noise. They’re engines, also, emit noise. It’s not as much as a combustion engine, but then there’s not a freaking explosion going on under the hood so that’s to be expected. Anyone that thinks mandatory noise emitters should be required, or would even be helpful, is a moron.

Peter says:

blind neighbor says tires make enough noise for him

our neighbor who is leagaly blind says that a majority of the time he hears the sound of the tires. More pronounced when the road is wet.
When I mentioned this article to him, he reply was, Eh, put a playing card near the spokes so it will go flip flip, flip like when you were a kid on your bike.

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