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Toyota Prius -- silent killer?
Silence is golden... or so they say

As auto manufacturers look for ways to improve the fuel efficiency of their vehicles, alternatives to relying solely on gasoline engines are being adopted. A number of companies, led by Toyota, are looking to gasoline-electric hybrids to boost efficiency in the U.S. Others are looking towards diesel engines, all-electric vehicles and fuel cells.

Gasoline-electric vehicles have been criticized greatly based on a number of factors. Some have argued that the fuel economy gains aren't worth the price premium, the batteries used in the vehicles will end up in landfills when their useful life is over and that diesels make for a more cost efficient and fuel efficient alternative.

One other negative has been leveled against hybrids in the past and that is in regards to their near-silent operation in city driving. Since most hybrids turn off their gasoline engine during low-speed city driving and rely on electric motors for propulsion, the most noise that many people may hear from the vehicles are a slight electric whine and a hint of tire noise.

Blind pedestrians have taken this issue to heart and are going after hybrids as they feel the silent vehicles pose a serious safety threat. The plight of blind pedestrians against hybrids has been detailed on DailyTech before, but the U.S. National Federation of the Blind (NFoB) is putting the issue back to the forefront.

"I'm used to being able to get sound cues from my environment and negotiate accordingly," said Deborah Kent Stein, chairwoman for the NFoB’s Committee on Automotive and Pedestrian Safety. "I hadn't imagined there was anything I really wouldn't be able to hear. We did a test, and I discovered, to my great dismay, that I couldn't hear it."

"People were making comments like, 'When are they going to start the test?' And it would turn out that the vehicle had already done two or three laps around the parking lot," Stein continued.

Since our last report, the NFoB has worked with the Association of International Auto Manufacturers (AIAM) and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) to look into the possibility of forcing automobiles to emit recognizable sound at all time. The AIAM is even looking into "the possibility of setting a minimum noise level standard for hybrid vehicles," according to safety director Mike Camissa.

However, what may be good for the blind is likely a turn-off to hybrid owners. One of the advantages to having a hybrid in city traffic is the relative quietness afforded by all-electric propulsion.

Representatives for NoiseOFF, a group dedicated to reducing noise pollution, are also less than amused about the proposal. "To further expose millions of people to excessive noise pollution by making vehicles artificially loud is neither logical nor practical nor in the public interest," said NoiseOff founder Richard Tur.

Likewise, the Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have expressed little interest in the idea.

1.3 million people in the United States (out of a total population of 303,036,973 people) are legally blind.





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