Blind People: Hybrids Are Too Quiet

Hybrids are very quiet—practically silent at slower speeds. Blind people rely on cars to make at least a little noise to safely cross the street. That awkward combination has created an unexpected tension between the makers of hybrid cars, environmentalists and blind pedestrians.

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is calling on automakers to set a minimum sound standard for hybrids. But the carmakers and others involved with traffic safety are at a loss on how to respond. The Association of International Auto Manufacturers, the Society of Automotive Engineers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Federal Highway Administration are all aware of the problem, but there’s no immediate high-tech solution at hand.

Blind people don’t want consumers to ditch their hybrids in favor of gas-guzzlers. But Deborah Kent Stein, chairwoman of the National Federation of the Blind’s Committee on Automotive and Pedestrian Safety, said she would like hybrids to sound similar to cars with conventional engines.

Environmentalists and advocates working to reduce noise pollution don’t want to put blind people in harm’s way. Although NFB President Marc Maurer said he received an email from an environmentalist who suggested that the members of his group should be the first to drown when sea levels rise from global warming. "I don’t want to pick that way of going, but I don’t want to get run over by a quiet car, either," Maurer told the Associated Press.

With hybrids steadily gaining in popularity, and electric vehicles making a likely comeback in the next decade, the next big challenge for green transportation will be to produce a low-pollution vehicle which is quiet, but not too quiet. In the meantime, hybrid drivers could resort to low-tech solutions, like driving slowly (good for mileage), paying close attention to pedestrian traffic—and playing the radio or singing a song when approaching crosswalks.

 


  • HAB

    I’m nearly speechless – how about coming up with some better solution than artificially creating noise where it isn’t created nor wanted.

    Seeing eye dog? Noise amplifier for the blind? Listening for the chirp of the crosswalk signal? New device that would detect a running hybrid within 20 or 50 feet?

    This has to be the most selfish thing thing I’ve seen in a while – demanding noise from clean, quiet technology.

  • Amy Davis

    Disabilities and technologies conflict in many areas. Cities put in pedestrial crossings for the blind, so they could determine when they were in a marked crossing, but the groves caught the wheels of wheelchair users. The ramps for wheelchairs were difficult for the blind and above knee amputees. Cameras, with the neat view screens are not good for those who only have use of their left arms as they block the view screen with their hand when shooting a photo. It isn’t selfish to want to be included in the world, it is just asking for forethought and consideration from others. If conflicts can be evaluated before costly projects are implimented, money and lives are saved while more people are able to participate equally in the world. The truth of life is that as we age, we all gain disabilities, so by acting with foresite we protect ourselves, our loved ones and those already impacted by differences they did not ask for, wish for and are trying their best to overcome.

  • Tom Smith

    The “fog crept in on cat feet”. Put a bell on the cat.

  • Mike

    When the conducted tests, it was found that blind people couldn’t hear hybrid cars coming … … as it turns out, for a very long time, GM and Ford executives couldn’t hear them coming either.

  • KAA

    Hybrid cars are not perfectly quiet, they still make noise. Maybe the solution is to require all the other cars to be quiet as the hybrids so that the blind can hear the hybrids.

  • KAA

    Another solution is to place rumble strips in front of crosswalks. The blind would then hear the cars drive across the rumble strips.

  • td

    I thought the largest component of noise coming from cars traveling at speed came from the tires on the pavement. At least as long as were not talking about F1 or Nascar :-) Has anyone actually performed any decibel tests on road noise of hybrids vs. regular cars? Or is the problem only at low speed where there is less tire noise?

  • Reid

    Making hybrid cars noisier is just ridiculous. Has anyone done any research on if accidents involving blind pedestrians and hybrid cars is on the rise?

    But the rumble strips is a great idea.

  • SA

    Yes, the problem should only be at low speeds. You can hear a hybrid at regular traffic speeds due to the tires. Off the road, parking lots are also a problem in this respect.

  • Andy

    It is a real problem that will need to be studied and addressed as society and electrics learn to get along.

    This isn’t just about blind people. I was caught totally by surprised when a “parked” car started mysteriously rolling faster and faster my direction from behind. Turns out it wasn’t rolling, it was electric, accelerating, and purely silent! Existing hybrid owners are already suffering casualties of their pets being run over.

    Ingenious ways are for the finding. I *think* the problem is mostly at lower speeds, when the tires aren’t making a lot of noise and cars are mixing with pedestrians. Perhaps these cars could be fitted with a highly directional clicker or bell ringer like trolleys have (for the same reason). It could automatically operate only at low speeds and not broadcast noise in all directions like ICEs.

    It will have to be solved. I heard someone claim that ICE cars are silent these days too, but that’s untrue. That’s only in the midst of ambient noise. When it’s really quiet, people do expect to hear a car.

  • Tom Smith

    We can’t satsify all constituencies – satisfying some issues (i.e. environmental) leads to other issues. I think society needs to balance the risks/rewards. By the way, my Prius has a nifty invention called a horn that I can use if someone is about to walk in front of me.

  • GripperDon

    I do as Tom Does Blow the Horn!

  • Jami

    In the 20 years I have been driving, I have never had to stop at a crosswalk for someone who is visually impaired. That is what the signals are for. I would think people would be happy for less noise pollution!

  • kballs

    How many blind people have been run over by hybrid cars?

    How many blind people have been run over by regular cars?

    How many fully visual and hearing capable people have been run over by hybrid cars? Regular cars?

    How many blind people walk around by themselves and cross at crosswalks without chirping signals or a seeing eye dog?

  • Andy

    kballs, if you prefer, you can wait until a few people die first. That’s the normal method of industrial innovation. I’m hoping some research will be done in advance.

    Mention of horns and crosswalks are a great illustration of my point. When drivers think “pedestrian” we only think “crosswalk” and “get out of my way.”
    The reality is:
    * Pedestrians only use crosswalks if they think they have to – i.e. they already recognize cars are present. But they are like cockroaches with the lights out if they don’t.
    * Cars drive many places where there are no crosswalks.
    * Horns only work when the driver has already seen the pedestrian. It assumes the drive has total awareness which they don’t.

    I want a silent car – that’s why I’m reading this blog. But until people get used to it, this is going to matter. I’m just be hoping to see a win win solution before someone mandates motor sounds.

  • Patrick

    The same problem happened with cell phones; they were too silent. They are actually adding background noise causing higher bandwidth cost for providers so higher costs for you..

    I dont feel like paying more buck to have this kind of noise gadget installed on my car. They are already using my tax money for safe crossing places at every corner.. and that works well.

  • doc627

    Let’s see some actual data/studies to see if this is really a problem or not. Adding more noise to hybrid cars is just plain stupid. A little common sense is the answer.

    Rubble strips as a short term solution is a step in the right direction

  • prius owner

    in italy, some buses have a beeping sound because their hybrid or electric engine is too quiet as they approach unknowing pedestrians. these are usually the small buses that are allowed to go through alleys and on pedestrian streets. I wonder if hybrids will have to install beeping mechanisms?

  • Andy

    They should make a Jetsons-like noise at low speeds.

    bpbpbpbpbpbpbpbpboo!

  • Wendy

    It doesn’t make sense to make the car that we want to be fuel efficent and quiet have to make noise. There has to be a way that can warn blind people that there is a car coming. Keep in mind for those of you arguing that people don’t use crosswalks than they are Jaywalking and at fault. I am not saying that these people need to be run over but it would be nice if there were more police giving tickets for it to discourage it. We might not live in a perfect world but we should all work together to make it better. In regards to the car backing up and not being able to hear it is it a fault that needs a back-up sensor or maybe more people need to go back to driving school and pay attention to the roads and other people and not worry about the radio, cell phone, etc. I have been walking with my kids in a parking lot and have people in cars that are noisy start backing up while we are behind them since they don’t look first. I don’t feel these flaws are the cars fault I feel these are the fault of the stupid drivers that don’t care about what is going on around them.

    I thank-you for my time on the soap box.

  • Gary

    I don’t see what is so difficult. Just make an engine noise module. The module would have an under hood speaker that modulates with the accelerator pedal.

    Auto parts stores could offer them as simple add-ons.

    The best ones would monitor engine speed, wheel speed, and would allow selection of what sort of car to sound like (and maybe even an option to turn it off).

  • Anja

    I am quite shocked how insensitive some people are who have posted hear. For blind people to navigate through traffic is an enormous stress situation, and car noise is their number one indication when to cross or not to cross a street. Also there are many cities which do not have save cross walks installed, so car noise really is the only thing blind people can go by. I think, we can all live with a bit of car noise, if it helps someone else whose safety utterly depends on it. Ignoring this problem just keeps blind people shut out from society with no means to get around independently. A little bit of humility and understanding for other people is certainly called for here.

  • Q

    Making ANY car noisier is ridiculous.
    There are already Transmitter/Receiver functions relating to safety zones.
    Most of the blind have some form of cane (electronic or standard) that helps them. Simply place a receiver in the cane that vibrates when the appropriate signal is transmitted and those that are interested, in the safety of others, can install the transmitter on their cars. If they hit a blind person without one of these installed, they are responsible for their actions. Work with the major disability organizations to develop it.
    If this is presented, and works, the car makers will implement it.

  • Old Man Crowder

    Since we’re so concerned about the well-being of every single living thing on the whole bloody planet….

    What about the dogs??

    If we start adding more noise to the environment, those poor dogs with their super-sensitive hearing are going to suffer.

    High-frequency transmitters? Won’t that disrupt the communications of bats and whales?

    I say we put playing cards in the wheel spokes.

  • Joe

    I think rumble strips is a good idea

  • Hybrid cars rule!!

    blind people HAVE NO REPSPECT FOr the enviorment

  • Rich

    I also agree that rumble strips are a good idea, this is also provided they are placed only around crosswalks. The reason I say this is about 2 years ago, someone guiding a blind person was jay-walking and stepped right in front of me in my Escape Hybrid. The person guiding the blind person never looked. My guess is that since they didn’t “hear” a car coming, the person assumed no one was approaching.

    After passing them, I rolled down my window and advised the blind person to get a new guide since the guide also got them killed for not looking for traffic.

  • Ken

    What’s next, noise devices for bicycles??????? There has to be a better way,

  • fuelmonger

    Well, let’s just outlaw ALL cars so that blind people are never, ever in danger of getting run over.

  • CG

    That’s the problem-blind people CAN”T take a hike because of the dangers imposed by quiet cars. Talk about selfish – look in the mirror! What about perfectly able-bodied people who are completely capable of making safe decisions about crossing a street on their own but they won’t put themselves out enough to stop at the curb to look for cars when they get to a crosswalk but just strut across expecting that cars are going to stop on a dime for them. It has nothing to do with being PC-it’s about the safety and the freedom of people who, through no fault of their own, happen to not be quite as perfect as you. They have every right to be given the opportunity to be independent, productive members of society. Blind people can’t drive so they are already severely limited in ways to travel, having to rely on walking and taking public transportation.
    As we will soon see, when more of these vehicles get on the roads and in parking lots, although they don’t realize it, sighted people rely on their hearing as well when they are walking near vehicles. There are already numerous accounts of people walking in parking lots and experiencing near-misses with hybrids coming from behind.
    Technology is great but when it puts people’s lives in danger then some accomodations need to be made. Sound-emitting pedestrian walk lights are fine when they work. But, even then, what about intersections that only have stop signs? A very small percentage of intersections even have traffic lights and if they have pedestrian lights, they do malfunction. At least now, with cars that make some sound, there is an alternative for knowing when a vehicle is approaching if the light is not working.
    Using the sound of approaching vehicles has been a reliable, low cost, low tech method to allow blind people to be safe and independent travelers for decades. No one has ever complained about the sound that vehicles emit so why is it an issue now? Car manufacturers do not need to continue to manufacture air-polluting vehicles but they do need make an accommodation that willl reliably allow all pedestrians to be aware of their presence.

  • margo

    My husband is blind. He was in a large city getting training for his blindness, he was not born that way, and he got around very well alone. He did almost get hit by a hybrid car, because it is quiet. He was at an intersection that had no fancy beeping lights. This really is a problem for the blind. There is a problem with the hybrid/electric car being quiet. We live in a small town and he was in the cross walk and had the right of way and people still have almost hit him. He listened to the sound of the cars to help cross the road. People just do not care enough to pay attention. And people think that this is a small problem that only affects a small part of the population. Why do we have to have people get hurt or die because of this before something is done? Humankind=be both

  • Bryan

    Getting hit by a bicycle will injure or kill you too. Last time I checked bicycles were pretty close to noiseless (if the person who owns it lubes the chain every once in a while, anyway.) Obviously blind people have been putting up with silent bicycles for 100+ years, so I’m suspicious that this “hybrid cars endanger the blind” argument is somebody’s idea of how to get column-inches rather than a real concern.
    The problem is not that cars/bikes are too silent; the problem is that a person, blind or not, has insufficient visual cross-section for a car driver to notice them. Motorcyclists have the same problem, and a way to deal with that has been mandated for quite a while in the USA – headlight and tail-light are always on. With the recent development of super-bright and efficient LEDs, it seems like having some sort of a “light-coat”, or perhaps a cane which has LEDs along its length, could address this problem. These would be turned on only for short periods of time when in a crosswalk. Perhaps a strobe light worn on one’s shoulder would work as well. Resorting to noisemakers on cars and bikes is so 19th-century; we can do better than that.

  • Karen

    This isn’t just a matter that blind people have to be concerned about. I tell my children to not only look but to LISTEN for cars coming. If they can’t hear the car coming, this puts them at risk. It’s selfish not to consider this because all people are at risk when they can’t hear a car coming!

  • Karen

    ONCE AGAIN, THIS IS NOT JUST A PROBLEM FOR THE BLIND. PEOPLE TELL THEIR CHILDREN TO NOT ONLY LOOK BUT TO LISTEN FOR CARS. WE ARE ALL AT RISK WHEN WE CAN’T HEAR A CAR COMING.

  • KAREN

    The NFB agrees with hybrid cars, but cars that can’t be heard are a danger not only to the blind but everyone. If you can’t hear a car coming, we’re all at risk- especially our children.

  • Ben

    Rumble strips sre good, but you have to place them at a sufficient distance to give the blind the opportunity to react to someone moving too fast, which means the entire street preceeding a crosswalk needs rumble strips between each city block in a big city. How about treating certain crosswalks (not all crosswalks have beeps and other accoutriments to make them blind-friendly), as if they were train tracks. When a car passes a certain point prior to the crosswalk, a switch triggers a buzzer or gate. For that matter, road spikes at all red lights. They didn’t mention this in the report, but unless it’s a state law for any specific state, you’re usually only going to have this problem in big cities. Small towns don’t ususally have crosswalks with beepers and bells. In many small towns, the blind children will get a sign, but there is little to accommodate a blind adult who needs to go to work. This is a big city problem. Let the larger municipalities work with the auto makers to solve the problem. The sounds like a job for Traffic Engineer Man and Car Designer Boy. Yawn.

  • Ben

    Rumble strips sre good, but you have to place them at a sufficient distance to give the blind the opportunity to react to someone moving too fast, which means the entire street preceeding a crosswalk needs rumble strips between each city block in a big city. How about treating certain crosswalks (not all crosswalks have beeps and other accoutriments to make them blind-friendly), as if they were train tracks. When a car passes a certain point prior to the crosswalk, a switch triggers a buzzer or gate. For that matter, road spikes at all red lights. They didn’t mention this in the report, but unless it’s a state law for any specific state, you’re usually only going to have this problem in big cities. Small towns don’t ususally have crosswalks with beepers and bells. In many small towns, the blind children will get a sign, but there is little to accommodate a blind adult who needs to go to work. This is a big city problem. Let the larger municipalities work with the auto makers to solve the problem. The sounds like a job for Traffic Engineer Man and Car Designer Boy. Yawn.

  • Rupert

    Hybrid owners should be required to shout out “hey look at me, I’m driving a hybrid”. In fact, they’ve been looking for a reason to do that since they bought their hybrids. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were behind the ”complaints” from the ”blind”.

  • Erin Wilburn

    My hubby is blind and this is a topic we have given much thought to. We live in a large city which does not have cirpers at crosswalks. I understand the rumble strips but have you thought about the cost and constuction of such an undertaking. This is why it is so important for automakers to act now. fixing a noise on a car most people can’t afford right now or use billions of tax dollars to fix every crosswalk in the U.S.
    I worry everyday about my hubby getting hit but it dosen’t stop him from being independant. Everyone has the right to independance! Many blind spend years going to school and learning mobility skills to make this possible. We belong to one of the many groups fighting this battle and we are a large educated group full of lawyers enginers and highly intelegent people. This issue is not going away any time soon.

  • khooper

    Blind people should not blame hybrid cars. They should also be reliable with what or where they are going. They should have their assistant to avoid accidents.Fun And Free Wheeling activities should be experienced by both normal and disabled people.

  • Anonymous

    There are a lot less disabled than there are cars. The disabled should be given (not have to buy) a small device to warn them of ALL cars. – why make everyone have to suffer the extra noise & expense?

  • Anonymous

    la

  • alysia

    what the hell do you think your on about !! how could you like it if you were blind and somebody said that to you !!

  • anonymous 50

    I think Hybrid cars are very good for the enviornment.

    However blind people rely on sound. Right? Well since they do, I agree with the rumble strips thats a really good idea.

    But people around us can invent some kind of hearing aid that is atached to blind people and hybrid cars. So then when a hybrid is at least 30-50ft away then the hearing aid will start beeping to alarm the blind person.

    That way the blind person will be safe and unharmed. :)

  • anonymous 50

    i love your idea of rumble strips

  • Clare

    (tottally late on any of this)

    this is ridiculous, this is really selfish, srsly >:I

    rumble strips= thumbs up!

  • Confused in Alberta

    You have got to be freaking kidding me. First we stab ourselves in the evolutionary foot by allowing these people to live and breed, and now they want to introduce noise where there is none. Get a life. Or better yet, some eyes.

  • Malory

    Everyone here amazes me with their intolerance. If you are not visually impaired you have no right to judge how hard their lives can be!!!!

    I am disabled mentally. When I am in a dissociative state, I totally blank out from the world and run. It’s a symptom of a severe anxiety disorder. I have a service dog to help me with this. Essentially I’m blind when this dissociation sets in, but my dog guides me and interrupts the urge to hit the ground running. You would be surprised at the challenges we face. We live in a smaller city and crosswalks do not make the “chirping” noise as they do in bigger cities. My dog has been trained to heed these noises, but when they are non-existent the reality stems that she is just a dog and can only be trained so well!! Sure she looks for cars (or I assume as I’ve never been hit nor she), but when she can’t hear the car who’s to say that she will make one grave mistake that will kill me or her?

    I like the rumble strips idea. But seriously people consider how hurtful words can be. You call the blind selfish? The same can be said of you by refusing to accommodate those who have a disability. It’s not like I choose to be disabled. It’s not like the blind choose to be so.

  • Malory

    Everyone here amazes me with their intolerance. If you are not visually impaired you have no right to judge how hard their lives can be!!!!

    I am disabled mentally. When I am in a dissociative state, I totally blank out from the world and run. It’s a symptom of a severe anxiety disorder. I have a service dog to help me with this. Essentially I’m blind when this dissociation sets in, but my dog guides me and interrupts the urge to hit the ground running. You would be surprised at the challenges we face. We live in a smaller city and crosswalks do not make the “chirping” noise as they do in bigger cities. My dog has been trained to heed these noises, but when they are non-existent the reality stems that she is just a dog and can only be trained so well!! Sure she looks for cars (or I assume as I’ve never been hit nor she), but when she can’t hear the car who’s to say that she will make one grave mistake that will kill me or her?

    I like the rumble strips idea. But seriously people consider how hurtful words can be. You call the blind selfish? The same can be said of you by refusing to accommodate those who have a disability. It’s not like I choose to be disabled. It’s not like the blind choose to be so.

  • Nancy

    I like hybrid cars better than regular cars. Once I even did a report on it in fifth grade.

  • Richard B

    I am doing a project about how to make blind people safe from hybrid and electric cars. I found this website pretty useful. I think that blind people should carry a cellular device that has a radio signal. If a radio transmitter was put on all of the hybrid cars, blind people could get a beep while the car is about 70 feet away. This would save the blind people from a terrible death that they don’t deserve

  • tapra1

    when sea levels rise from global warming. “I don’t want to pick that way of going, but I don’t want to get run over by a quiet car, either,” Maurer told the Associated Press.Tech Blog

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