The Nissan Leaf is the first of the new batch of electric vehicles to reveal its pedestrian-alert sound. While advocates for the blind are pleased with the introduction of the audible warning, the National Federation for the Blind is not happy that the Nissan Leaf will allow drivers to disable this feature.
The main point of creating artificial sounds is to help pedestrians who rely on hearing to know whether a car is approaching. If drivers can turn the system off, the effort is rendered pointless. Nissan says it added the switch to balance the needs of drivers and pedestrians while also claiming the sound is not really audible inside the car. As with the disable switches for stability control systems, the noise is only turned off for the current drive cycle. Each time the car is shut off, the noise is re-enabled. We see the value in turning off such audible signatures in limited circumstances (teens creeping up their parents' driveways after curfew, whirring in late to a drive-in movie, etc.).That said, we also understand the NFB's concerns.
The introduction of electric vehicles to mainstream consumers is in its infancy, with new legal standards still evolving. To that end, the National Federation for the Blind plans to continue pursuing legislation that mandates permanent sound systems in all hybrid and electric vehicles.