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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 Reclaimer77 on 6/21/2010 5:55:31 PM , Rating: 5
You forget though, this is the new activists American. Where the needs of the few, outweigh the needs of the many. Minority rule!!

By YashBudini on 6/21/2010 5:56:39 PM , Rating: 2
Pffft, this has been Harley logic for decades.

RE: I'm not trying to be insensitive...
By Mr Perfect on 6/21/2010 7:53:38 PM , Rating: 3
Where the needs of the few, outweigh the needs of the many.

Make the Leaf sound like the Enterprise and all the tech geeks will be cool with this. Unless of course some want it to sound like a Klingon vessel.

Or a TIE fighter.

Or a Cylon raider.

Or that jeep from Halo.

RE: I'm not trying to be insensitive...
By JediJeb on 6/22/2010 12:02:31 PM , Rating: 2
TIE sounds would be cool. Can we also get the blaster firing effect to use when people try to cross the street in front of us, that would be an even better warning to the blind if they don't heed the crossing signals.

By geddarkstorm on 6/22/2010 2:35:33 PM , Rating: 2
That should be the horn sound. Although, I've always been personally fond of the rebel snow speeders.

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