• Sep 21st 2006 at 8:11AM
  • 59

I mentioned in my driving impression of the Chevrolet Sequel that engineers need to do something about the whooshing sound coming out of the tailpipe. The frequency and texture have absolutely no intrinsic connection to the automobile. Fortunately, you can barely hear it.

That's not good news for a blind person, however. I noticed a brief comment in a story from the San Luis Obispo Tribune about boot camps for blind students where they can learn more about navigating their surroundings.

"The biggest challenge is hearing a nearly silent electric car," said the story, noting that the students are taught to listen for tire sounds. That's great if the vehicle is running on 37-inch mud-terrain knobbies, but hybrids and electric vehicles are designed with low-resistance tires. They don't make any noise.

The story also said the National Federation for the Blind is working with automakers on a solution. So a quick search of the NFB Web site found an interesting presentation from Deborah Kent Stein. She asks: "How could blind people travel independently in a world filled with silent electric cars?"

Stein conducted a personal experiment when she heard a friend brought a new Prius. She had him drive by a few times and couldn't hear the car. She could feel no vibration or sense tire friction. With the backing of the NFB, Stein is a leader in reaching out to manufacturers and NHTSA to find a working solution. She has suggested starting up the cooling fan when the vehicle is a stop or have the vehicle emit a clicking noise when the axle turns. Another suggested a radio signal be mandatory so blind pedestrians could carry a beeper that signals when an electric vehicle is near.

This issue is not lost on the hybrid owners. A post on treehugger.com earlier this year was quite sympathetic to the problem, noting that one owner plays his music a little louder in parking lots to make sure he's heard.

[Source: National Federation for the Blind]



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  • 59 Comments
      Don Mills
      • 9 Years Ago
      I remember in California, heavily populated with deer, you can buy a plastic thing that hooks into your radiator grill. The wind from the moving car makes the plastic thing whistle, allowing deer on the road ahead to get frightened of the oncoming noise and moving off the road. A similar attachment to electric vehicles would allow a dopplar effect for the blind to judge the distance and speed of oncoming cars...wouldn't it?
      • 9 Years Ago
      The idea of a quiet car is great. Except the reality is potentially dangerous. Not only for the hearing and seeing impaired, also for our children, our unsuspecting pets and our wildlife.
      Unfortunately, I do not have a recommended suggestion. (yet!) I trust we are all thinking about how it could work for everyone.
      • 9 Years Ago
      Hi - for years now, in Germany there are traffic amples with sound for blind people. With the green walk signle, a beeping sounds starts, letting the blind person know it is "safe" to walk.
      • 9 Years Ago
      You really have got to be kidding me! If and I say if because in my 50,000 miles per year of dxriving I have seen one blind person attempting to cross the street. I knew he was blind because he had the trademark cane and dark glasses. I slowed down and if he had in the slightest made any indication of crossing the street I would have stopped and honked to oblige him. Now, I ask seriously, should we further punish by additional cost the Green Driver by adding irrelevant features? I mean give us all a break here. Fact < Hardly happens. Fact < Give me some credit for observation. Enough with the goody two shoes crapola.
      • 9 Years Ago
      The most sensible, lowest cost solution could be to find the speed at which a given car's tires may be heard when the car is under electric only mode (in the case of a hybrid), ensure that new hybrid and fuel cell cars run their air conditioning condensor fans at speeds below that figure.

      My 2005 Prius is nearly silent in electric mode; however, being I'm aware of this, I actually watch more carefully for pedestrians, bicyclists, and the blind. However, when the cooling or a/c fan(s) are on, the noise is just as loud as the same components on a conventional car - and incongruent to passers by who hear nothing then suddenly get a cacaphony of loud fan noise! It's a bit odd, but we'll get used to it.

      Our grandparents and great-grandparents got used to "put-put" compared to "clop-clop" after all.
      • 9 Years Ago
      The National Federation of the Blind has over 50,000 members in the United States. While this may be a small percentage of the population, it does not reflect all the blind people in the country. Many elderly blind do not use canes, and most blind people do not have guide dogs, contrary to one man's opinion.
      You as a driver may not see many blind people, but the person who is blind is blind all the time, and has to deal with the lack of auditory information in silent cars. Obnoxious noises are not the answer, and a beeper would be of limited use. But some sort of noise would be helpful, even if it's a musical tune of six notes or so that plays when the car approaches a pedestrian in the crosswalk. It wouldn't need to be loud enough for the driver to hear unless his windows were open. Just a suggestion.
      Loraine Stayer, member, National Federation of the Blind
      • 9 Years Ago
      Well, after reading all of these notes, I have to say that my solution to the "no noise" problem (letting the a/c fan run at low speeds in hybrid and later, fuel cell cars) is probably the most logical and sensible thing that could be done. I'm fairly certain that every hybrid car out on the roads today could be "retrofitted" by a simple programming upgrade. Yeah, someone suggested about 7mph - that should work fine. Above that, the tire noise is going to increase to make it possible for people to "sense" you are there. Maybe make it 15 mph just to be on the safe side.

      Though I have to admit I enjoy tooling along silently at low speeds, it makes me remember just how cool my Prius is and how smart Toyota were to build them, I also have to say that when the cooling fan is on, I can hardly hear it inside the car when my windows are up. Since I have allergies and enjoy the benefits of my Prius having a pollen filter, I leave my windows up virtually all the time.

      Bottom line - as I also mentioned before way early in this stream of comments and as others have reiterated - it is the RESPONSIBILITY of the drivers to ensure they do not harm pedestrians, whether they are in a silent car or not - and those of us in near silent cars who are responsible and actually care about someone other than our own selves, already have figured that out and watch carefully for others.
      • 9 Years Ago
      I was on the phone tonight with one of my friends, who happens to be blind. We were talking about the dangers of hybrid cars. I am astonished at some ofthe remarks that I have read today and can only ask that for one day you blindfold yourself and try to see how it might feel. See if you can get dressed, put shampoo in your hair instead of conditioner, sort laundry, cook a meal, use the internet, remember a phone number because you cannot write t down, and if you do, you cannot read it to dial it again. I do think that some of the suggestions are great and it is great to see people concerned about this obvious problem but... a lot of people are suggestion that we should do something around crosswalks, what about just crossing a street? I live in the cityomn a side street, but the nearest crosswalk is over a mile away, what if I have to cross the street earlier? I think that the only option is to either make advancements in the car or give the person who is blind something to detect the movement. Perhaps something that can detect metal movement at 5mph or greater? I do not know the solution, but I am hoping that together we can make things safer for the blind as well as seeing drivers. Any suggestions?
      • 9 Years Ago
      please think of a HUMAN LIFE before fashionable autos and how much they will put in your pockets. A car can be replaced but a HUMAN can not....
      • 9 Years Ago
      I've been raising guide dogs for the blind for years, so I can affirm that smarter crosswalks/intersections, not noisier (or more gas-guzzling) cars is the solution. Also, how many pedestrains in crosswalks have you hit in your gas-fueled car? Why would people start hitting more pedestrains all of a sudden in electric ones? I find it entertaining that all these "major concerns" about electric cars are coming out as elections approach.
      • 9 Years Ago
      Are we also not concerned for the welfare of blind and deaf pedestraisn? Or the effect that cloaking devices will have on those merely deaf?

      Seriously though ... in our age of technological wonder why do blind people navigate around with sticks? They should have inductive amplifiers on their person which amplify the sound of nearby motors, at the very least.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Simple Solution. Create a watch for the blind that uses sound to indicate the approach of an electric car. Then you can have electric cars, and you remove the hazard for the blind.
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