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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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At least they will hear it coming...
By lightfoot on 6/21/2010 3:17:43 PM , Rating: 1
At least now the blind people will hear what killed them when the driver of this Nissan isn't paying attention. Honestly what do they expect the blind pedestrian to do if they hear this coming? Dive and roll out of the way??!

This doesn't change the fact that it is the driver's responsibility to not run into pedestrians. Plenty of peds get hit by moving vehicles every day - just because you can hear it coming doesn't mean that the pedestrian can do anything about it.

Maybe they should make cars slower too so that old men can get out of their way, and how about if we make them sparkly so that deaf people (and teenage girls) can see them coming. And maybe they shouldn't be allowed to drive in areas where children play, or stupid people live.

Or better yet, make sure that we only issue driver's licenses to people who can pass the driving test.




RE: At least they will hear it coming...
By MozeeToby on 6/21/2010 4:03:15 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
Honestly what do they expect the blind pedestrian to do if they hear this coming? Dive and roll out of the way??!
How about not stepping out to cross the street. Try it sometime on a not too busy street that you're familiar with; close your eyes and see if you can hear a car coming and from how far away. I'll bet you can hear it well enough that you could cross safely based on what you do and don't hear. There are a lot of very valid complaints about this system, but it being worthless to blind people isn't one of them.


By BZDTemp on 6/21/2010 4:38:52 PM , Rating: 2
You're spot on.

One might also say the heading for this article is somewhat inflammatory. Reading the actual statements made the #1 criticism is that the sound can be turned off not that the sound is wrong or even somehow insulting.


By afkrotch on 6/21/2010 9:11:22 PM , Rating: 2
How about doing the same thing, but this time, every single car is silent. Instead, you're wearing a flashing light and a noise generator.

Bet you it's just as safe as making a silent car noisy. The responsibility to protect one's self is up to well...one's self.


By JediJeb on 6/22/2010 5:10:54 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
How about not stepping out to cross the street. Try it sometime on a not too busy street that you're familiar with; close your eyes and see if you can hear a car coming and from how far away. I'll bet you can hear it well enough that you could cross safely based on what you do and don't hear. There are a lot of very valid complaints about this system, but it being worthless to blind people isn't one of them.


What if a very loud car or bike is sitting near or just past the crosswalk and is making enough noise that you still can't hear the sound these cars make? Do we make them louder to overcome the ambient noise levels? If so then the ambient noise levels increase and you enter a Catch22 situation. It is a good idea overall but the best idea is to make better drivers and better pedestrians, that will make the streets safer for all.


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