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The 2011 Nissan Leaf EV  (Source: The New York Times)
Critics like the basic premise, but say it was poorly executed

After a couple of years of debate about how to best handle the risk that silent electric vehicles pose to blind pedestrians, the 2011 Nissan Leaf EV offered up a creative solution -- artificial noises emitted while driving.  You might guess that blind rights advocates would be happy.

That guess would be incorrect, though.  The National Federation of the Blind said that while including an alert was a step in the right direction, the system was full of flaws.  Their biggest problem was with the fact that the driver could disable the alert.  States the group, "[We are] disappointed that the driver is permitted to turn off the sound.  [This] in effect, allows drivers to deactivate this important safety feature and thereby endanger pedestrians, especially those who are blind."

Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind complains, "The biggest thing with us is that we don’t think the driver should be able to switch the sound off."

When enabled, the group is okay with the standard driving warning sound, which they say is "sufficient to alert pedestrians".  However, they are also displeased with the reverse warning sound, which unlike the forward noise is not continuous.  They comment, "Intermittent sound is not as effective as a continuous sound."

Another complaint they have is that no warning sounds are emitted when the vehicle is idling.

The backup noises sounds somewhat like a ringing bell or submarine sonar, while the forward noise sounds somewhat like a jet tanking off (a whistle) -- or as  Mark Perry, the director for product planning at Nissan Americas puts it, "You know that show with David Hasselhoff, Knight Rider? The forward sound reminds me of what KITT sounded like."

The sounds are generate by a synthesizer under the hood and should not disturb passengers within the cockpit, thanks to insulating layers.  The sounds measure at 2.5 kHz at the high end of the spectrum to 600 Hz at the bottom.

Nissan recruited high profile help to develop the system, including, the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology, acoustic psychology experts from the Vanderbilt University Medical Center and a Hollywood sound design studio that was not identified.  Interestingly, The National Federation of the Blind -- the organization that is offering up the current criticism -- also helped provide design input for the system.

Perry defends the system against the recent criticism, stating, "They’re entitled to their opinions on the sounds turning off and what the sounds should be. The on-off switch by default is in the on position, and the driver has to make a decision each time to turn it off. The switch is there to balance the needs of drivers and pedestrians, though we think most owners will leave the system on because they can’t hear the sounds inside the car."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and legislators in Congress are currently working on legislation which would mandate noisemakers in electric vehicles.  There are no such current regulations; the Nissan system was implemented merely in good faith.

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RE: I'm not trying to be insensitive...
By xler8r on 6/21/2010 2:59:26 PM , Rating: 0
Yeah, I tend to agree. I read a book on economic stats a while ago and one of the feature points was whether seat belts were making reckless drivers or not. As the numbers had shown, a much larger amount of crashes had happened since automakers were required to include belts.
I understand there is a slew of more variables than there was when they made cars without belts (including higher car speeds).
Principle remains, is the belts making people irresponsible? Same goes for this, people should be increasingly aware with these vehicles... but we all know how people can be.

RE: I'm not trying to be insensitive...
By therealnickdanger on 6/21/2010 5:16:38 PM , Rating: 5
I understand there is a slew of more variables than there was when they made cars without belts (including higher car speeds).

Since the "old days" vehicle miles traveled (VMT) have been increasing , the number of licensed drivers have been increasing , the number of cars on the road have been increasing , and crashes (including fatalities) have been decreasing . Compare them using basic math and you'll quickly see that crash rates and fatality rates are plummeting over the decades.

(Older data, but just for one state)

Every crash is unique and varies by many factors ranging from actions by the driver during the split-seconds before impact to defects in the car to the overall negligence that led to it, but I can tell ya that if you bet on the belted occupant surviving every time, you would be ahead by a lot.

That being said, when it comes to pedestrians, they are simply S.O.L. in such a contest of physics.

By JediJeb on 6/22/2010 11:53:25 AM , Rating: 2
Principle remains, is the belts making people irresponsible? Same goes for this, people should be increasingly aware with these vehicles... but we all know how people can be.

Is is a proven fact that when helmets were first required for Hockey players, the number of neck injuries almost doubled the next year. Simple reason was with a helmet the player wasn't as afraid to injure their head, and more were careless about sliding into the wall head first. False sense of security can be a dangerous thing.

“So far we have not seen a single Android device that does not infringe on our patents." -- Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith

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