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Sound Alert System Issue for Hybrids and EVs Reaches New Level of Absurdity


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An interesting point of view on hybrid electrics:

"Advocacy organizations for the blind say that electric cars are more dangerous, and require special sounds to alert pedestrians as they approach, especially at low speeds."


With scant evidence that hybrid and electric vehicles pose a genuine danger to blind pedestrians, children or the elderly, the federal government is working on final rules for a new law requiring a sound alert system for these quieter cars. Controversy about the issue reached a new level of absurdity in recent weeks as it caused the delay of bringing two new electric-drive vehicles to market.

There are currently nearly 2 million hybrid gas-electric cars on U.S. roads, none of which have artificial external systems to produce warning sounds. Advocacy organizations for the blind say that electric cars are more dangerous, and require special sounds to alert pedestrians as they approach, especially at low speeds.

Deliveries of the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid were postponed from January until April. Why? Because the sound warning device—which mimics the sound of a conventional engine—was designed to give drivers the ability to turn off the warning system. Apparently, pending rules from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will prohibit carmakers from allowing drivers to switch off the sounds.

Meanwhile, Nissan has slightly delayed delivery of the Nissan LEAF to customers in the United Kingdom. Why? Because its pedestrian warning system cannot be shut off. Apparently, UK law states that such sounds must be capable of being turned off between the hours of 11:00 pm and 6.00 am.

So, the reason given for why the Sonata Hybrid is delayed in the U.S. is the opposite reason for why the LEAF is delayed in the U.K.—and vice versa.

It’s unclear if swapping the two vehicles’ approach to artificial external audio for the two markets will resolve the issue—or what will happen to the Infiniti M35 Hybrid, another new model already featuring its own type of pedestrian alert system. Last fall, Toyota, the world's biggest producer of hybrids, announced that a sound alert will be available for the Prius and upcoming Prius Plug-in Hybrid in Japan. The entirely optional feature, emitting a synthesized electric motor sound, costs about $150.

At this stage, three things about this issue are certain. One: There is no independent conclusive study that proves that hybrids and electric cars pose a threat to pedestrians, or that making them noisier will mitigate any danger. Two: The lack of global standards for how to address a potential problem is causing confusion for carmakers, and delaying product from reaching consumers. And three: The issue is not going away.

The blind are standing in the way of energy independence?

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I ran across this article while banging my head against the wall trying to find an AWD hybrid that seats 6 (I have 4 kids and currently drive a suburban). Not a lot of options out there.

And then I see this and it makes me understand - in part - where the deregulation tea party types are coming from. Why is there a presumptions that cars have to make sounds? Such that it needs to be regulated as such.

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I sell them and it's hilarious to put someone in the driver's seat and walk away only to have them roll the window down and tell me the car won't start. And to the person looking for 6 passenger hybrids, Ford has a vehicle coming out that will seat six be part electric and be about the size of a Mazda 5, suppossed to be out in the 2011 calendar year.

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