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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 Regected on 6/21/2010 7:30:05 PM , Rating: 4
Don't forget to mention that the day before, the same mom almost hit a biker while she was trying to calm her baby in the back seat while driving down the road. The poor biker had a super quiet muffler and was never seen.

Give me a freaking break. I've ridden every day for the past 6 years, and can say, that without a doubt, loud pipes HAVE saved my life. People don't look for bikes, so at least they can hear me. Talk to a few bikers who have had friends killed by ignorant drivers before dishing out crap about a baby getting woken up while sleeping outside.


By Lazarus Dark on 6/21/2010 7:58:48 PM , Rating: 2
When the good weather came around this year... within one week I passed 6 (!) accidents where a biker was on the ground after being hit by a car. I'm not a biker, but I know several, including my mom. And I can definately say most drivers are NOT paying attention. Quite frankly, I don't even think a loud muffler or a sound synthesizer is going to help. These idiots will still hit someone either way.


RE: I'm not trying to be insensitive...
By Creig on 6/22/2010 9:21:24 AM , Rating: 5
quote:
I've ridden every day for the past 6 years, and can say, that without a doubt, loud pipes HAVE saved my life. People don't look for bikes, so at least they can hear me. Talk to a few bikers who have had friends killed by ignorant drivers before dishing out crap about a baby getting woken up while sleeping outside.

Pure and utter B.S. You've ridden the past 6 years? I'm 42 and have been riding street bikes since I was 16, so that makes it 26 years for me. And not once was I ever in a situation where I thought to myself later, "Boy, if only I had loud pipes I might have avoided that close call".

Oncoming traffic and motorists at side streets don't hear you until AFTER you've gone past them because your exhaust noise is directed behind you. Which doesn't prevent anything. The only situation where loud pipes might alert a car driver is if they're lane changing on a multi-lane highway and you're alongside them in their blind spot. Even then, all you need is a loud horn on your bike if they start to move over into your lane, then they swerve back.

If noisy exhaust was really such a miraculous life saver, then all cars/trucks/semis would be running straight pipes right from the factory.

Face it, the "Loud Pipes Save Lives" crap is simply an excuse to uncork your exhaust because you think it sounds "cool". I, and many other bikers, think it makes you sound like a douche.


By jRaskell on 6/22/2010 9:37:29 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
Oncoming traffic and motorists at side streets don't hear you until AFTER you've gone past them because your exhaust noise is directed behind you.


Now THAT is pure and utter B.S.! I can hear a bloody straight pipe Harley coming from several blocks away, nevermind hear him 100 feet from the intersection we're both approaching.


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