Hybrid and Electric Cars Will Emit Vroomtones

One day, drivers might download “vroomtones” for their cars, the way they download ringtones for cell phones today.

After years of complaints from blind pedestrians that ultra-quiet hybrid cars pose a safety threat, the auto industry is responding by producing on-board devices that emit sound. Nissan is considering using a high- pitched science fiction sound for its upcoming all-electric Nissan Leaf. The Fisker Karma luxury plug-in hybrid might use a sound halfway between a jet engine and an F1 racecar. And Volkswagen’s E-Up! concept car, described as “the Beetle for the 21st century,” might use the very 20th century sound of a common gas engine.

Blind Person and Prius

This is music to the ears of advocate organizations for blind people. In 2007, when hybrids starting taking off in the United States, The National Federation of the Blind called on automakers to set a minimum sound standard for hybrids. Earlier this year, The Japan Federation of the Blind submitted a request to Japan’s transportation ministry, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association and the country’s carmakers to consider the issue. The ministry set up a committee that met in July and August, and will present recommendations by Dec. 31, according to Bloomberg.

Toshiyuki Tabata, Nissan’s noise and vibration expert, has been working on developing artificial car sounds for about three years. “We decided that if we’re going to do this, if we have to make sound, then we’re going to make it beautiful and futuristic,” he told Bloomberg. “We wanted something a bit different, something closer to the world of art,” said Tabata. The sound system would turn on automatically when the car starts and shut off when the vehicle reaches about 10 miles per hour. Nissan presented its sound system to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Sept. 3.

Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest newspaper, reported that Toyota and Fujitsu Ten Ltd. will soon conduct its own experiment to try out various sounds to find “the right tune at the right volume so people are alerted but don’t find the sound annoying.” Japanese regulations say the sound can’t be mistaken for a horn. Toyota hybrids may begin using sound alert devices as soon as next year, and those cars might also include “radar” to recognize the presence of pedestrian.

Sensing a market opportunity, car electronics manufacturers are developing new noise devices. In 2008, Lotus, the British performance carmaker, unveiled a system dubbed “Safe and Sound,” which generates an artificial noise mimicking a gas-powered combustion engine. Tokyo-based Data System Co. currently makes a device selling for about $140 that emits 16 different sounds including a cat’s meow, a “boing,” and a human voice saying, “Excuse me.”


  • schafetz

    Futuristic sound? Fist thing that comes to mind is exactly the opisite. I would imagine the sound of a carriage horse clip-cloping on a cobled road. Depending on speed, the sound can go from walk to trot to canter to gallup.:)

  • Mr.Bear

    I agree this is needed. I had a Prius roll past me in a parking lot and it scared the crap out of me because I didn’t hear it coming.

    But I disagree that the artificial sound is only needed below 10mph. I’m pretty sure blind people cross roads where the speed limit is greater than 10mph and I can drive my car with the combustion motor off at speeds much greater than that.

    And futuristic sounds? Who is the sound for, again? Blind people who can’t hear the car coming. How about we make the car sound like a freaking car? I know, that would be too revolutionary.

    I’m also pretty sure this technology already exists. I was just at Disneyland. Many of the tour vehicles there looked like they were all electric and had been equiped with something to make put-put sounds to make them sound like real cars.

  • Dan P

    FART SOUNDS!

    I’d love to drive something that sounds like I need to wipe.

  • Paul Rivers

    “But I disagree that the artificial sound is only needed below 10mph. I’m pretty sure blind people cross roads where the speed limit is greater than 10mph and I can drive my car with the combustion motor off at speeds much greater than that.”

    It’s because above a certain limit (perhaps 10mph, perhaps higher) the car makes other sounds that with modern quiet engines are louder than the engine, and loud enough to hear the car coming.

    Cities build soundwalls along freeways to reduce the amount of noise that residents by the freeway have to hear. If I go out on to the deck of my dad’s townhome, which is a mile from the freeway, you can still hear the freeway. It would certainly be a huge step backwards to have cars artificially making noise at 50mph.

  • qqRockyBeans

    They should make it sound like Volvo’s five-cylinder engine

  • sculptor

    Maybe Walter MItty fans could choose “ta-pockita-pockita-pockita?” ;-)

  • Anonymous

    How about making it like cell phone ringtones….download your Vroomtone NOW! $0.99 per download…change it often!

    I can only imagine the cacophony.

    -t

  • Anonymous

    Why don’t they make them emit noxious gasses too.

  • camry hybrid

    My hybrid already has a noise emitting device–it is called a horn. If anyone walks in front of the car I press a button and a loud sound emits from the front of the car. There is enough noise in the world lets not create more just because blind people decide to walk in the street.

    It always makes me smile and laugh when I can sneak up on someone in a parking lot who is walking in the middle of the street. Their look is priceless.

  • DC

    Urban noise pollution is something I (used) to think we wanted to if not get rid of, then reduce as much as possible. Along comes the EV with its whisper quiet mode of operation. What does everyone want to do…make them noisy so the careless, inatenative jaywalkers, and the bascially stupid can hear them comeing when they wander into traffic, usually illegally. And from listening to the blind advocates, you would get the impression that EV’s are going to pretty much wipe out the blind population in record time. I do not recall any real-world data or testing to back this assertion. If I ever do get to own a proper EV, the 1st thing thats getting dis-abled is any noise-maker that imitates a gas-engine.

  • Anonymous

    There better be one that sounds like the cars on the Jetsons…

  • John Mammoth

    This is great news! I can see the steady stream of income coming in when I figure out how to disable all the sounds these cars will be making. Personally I will look at this as a disincentive to choose one car over another. There is an already simple solution to this problem. The driver should be paying attention to the road. If that’s not enough I think someone has already created a device that makes a pretty good noise. It is usually integrated with the steering wheel.

  • Anonymous

    what’s happening to society? what happen to the concept called responsibility and respect for each other? Adding noise to quiet cars? It’s like advocating adding fat to water because it’s too pure. Where would this stop? Should same apply to bicycles, joggers, skateboarders, skiers, etc? I think this is a classic case of killing an insect with a sledge hammer.

    The driver has a responsibility of being aware of their surroundings and adjust appropriately just as much as pedestrians do. Drivers have no right to run down anyone under any condition, nor does pedestrians have any right to step right in front of vehicles without giving them a chance to stop. Ultimately adding a sound device will just bring a false sense of security.

    Not to be insensitive to blind people, but I believe they are being used by big oil companies as a reason to stunt the ev movement. Let’s give visually impaired people some credit. There are other sources of noise from EV that can be detected by them, such as tire noise, wind noise, motor whine, horns, etc. Conversely, this is no different than in a noisy environment where sound of typical car would be masked by other noises. Drivers who whisk by people without due care is the real issue here, not the vehicle itself. What we need is some common sense and mutual respect.

  • chukcha

    I totally agree with anonymous. The blind people should adjust to the seeing people. Not the other way around! I mean, this is insanity. The whole point of electric car is that it is better and quieter. To make a electric car noisy just to satisfy a disabled minority is wrong.
    I have nothing against the blind, but instead of a car making sounds why not put a little super low power wireless signal transmitter and give a little wireless receiver to the blind person. When the car is near the receiver would signal the blind person that the car is near and from which direction. That’s it. No stupid car sounds.
    Geez people use your imagination. It will cost like $5 max and we can make it in the USA.
    Downloadable car sounds… Well you can actually make a unique signal for each car make and model and transmit it to the receiver which the blind person wears to let him know which car is approaching. A nice extra option for the blind people. Imagine, a pimped out car receiver for the blind made in USA. That’s more like it!

  • Anonymous

    This is ridiculous. We already have laws against hitting people. Why don’t pedestrians LOOK AROUND? I do. I also look for people when I’m driving. It’s not hard. I can hear hybrids no problem, they emit a high-pitched whine and the tires on the ground make noise. Why not install noises at crosswalks when people are supposed to cross? Some in my town have them. I’m going to disable mine if I’m forced to get a car with one. Or maybe I’ll hack it to say “don’t be stupid”.

  • Anonymous

    I think emitting sound adds to already amazing amounts of noise pollution that traffic creates. This is all the more apparent when you are in your hybrid stopped (engine is in auto stop) and you can hear all the noise of all the cars around you.

    As for people being “snuck up on” by hybrids – they should not be walking down the middle of the street or down the middle of car lanes in parking lots. I can’t stand people that don’t use a sidewalk and instead walk in the street.

    Not sure what to do about blind folks – I think a horn should work fine.

  • alancamp

    Actually the article stated the sound would shut ‘off’ when the vehicles slows to 10mph. When I think about it, most of what we hear from newer vehicles is the wheel noise against the road surface, unless the vehicle is accelerating, has squeaky brakes or engine problems. Blind people rely on being more visually observant, deaf people rely on a keener sense of hearing. Electric cars are not floating on air, so they should still be heard, and seen just as well as a new gasoline car. Like the other person said, the noise boxes will just be producing noise pollution for everyone that can hear.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Maybe we should, instead put a limit on the amount of noise that an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) can emit. This will lower the overall ambient noise so the blind can actually hear an EV or hybrid.
    Just making cars noisier to make things safer creates an “arms race” that can’t be won.
    Studies and anecdotal evidence will just keep finding that a noisy car is “safer” than a quieter car. This will mean that quieter cars will have to become noisier to get “safer” but a noisier car will still always be “safer” than the less noisy ones. The noise will just keep getting louder but the quieter cars will always be less “safe”.
    Daytime Running Lights are the same problem.

  • Anonymous

    Beside hybrid and EV, some of the cars on the road are pretty quiet. Are they going to put regulations to require them to run more noisier?

    How about the people that have hearing problem? Should all cars or bikes required to blink their head lights so they can see the cars are coming since they can’t hear them?

  • Carson O’Genic

    I also think this is a dumb idea. One thing i like is how quite my Escape is when stopped or running at low speed. I imagine that as more of the car fleet goes hybrid/EV that the streets and parking lots will be come quieter and it will be even easier to hear tire noises etc. Lets not ruin the advancement.

    I agree horns work really well. If you want to download unique noises, may I suggest you turn on the stereo to your favorite noise and open the window. That should do the trick.

  • Priusmaniac

    That’s all anti hybrid and anti EV oilies and dieselists rumble. It only serves one purpose that as nothing to do with the blind people and everything to do with putting sticks in the wheels of the competition.

  • Old Man Crowder

    Why not just put a playing card in the spokes?

  • Anonymous

    People who are blind don’t go around “walking in the streets”! The problem is people who think driving is a game and don’t consider the hazards that careless driving creates. It sounds like you are talking about driving the bumper cars at a carnival. I personally do not feel safe knowing that there are drivers with your attitude driving round on our streets. Hopefully you will not have to find out what it is like for you or someone you love to loose their sight. Your comment was rude and inconsiderate.

  • Anonymous

    Did you even read the article?

  • simon@syd

    I do hope the sound can be transmitted in a cone forward of the vehicle. It would be just too awful to reproduce – artificially – one of the disadvantages of conventional engines. Like turning off a good feature, or even turning on, a bad one.

  • Robert01

    Maybe there should be a little “ring ring” sound like the tinkling of a butler’s bell? That would be pretty cool.

  • Rom

    I agree with you. A more reasonable 35-40 mph should be the starting point.

    Though they are probably going to over thinking this and make a ‘pedestrian safety device’ with a similarly named price to go with it.

    I’m sure a ‘recycled’ container can be formed into a bendy that rubs the rims for a nostalgic putter of a playing card in a bike wheel. :)

  • Rom

    I have a simple solution that I’ve said before on this subject:

    Roll your window down and play some music of your choosing. If people complain, you simply tell them that you are keeping the safety of the blind in mind and letting them know you’re there.

  • RKRB

    Wow! Who could possibly be against a program that can not only save lives, injuries, and costly accidents, but also reduce the fear of a handicapped person, a distracted person, or a child getting hit by a car, and all at the cost of a functionally trivial inconvenience for ourselves? If someone saves a life by landing a disabled aircraft, they are (justifiably) considered a hero, but if someone saves a life by mandating an audible noise they are considered a meddler???

    You can be as attentive as you want while driving, but if a child (perhaps your own child) doesn’t hear you coming and runs into the street in front of you, this will make you feel guilty for the rest of your life.

    So maybe this is why we need a government after all …

  • Anonymous

    Everybody is talking about people and children. What about animals? If I hit a moose with a little electrical vehicle in high speed because the vehicle is silent and the moose didn’t hear it, what happen?

    I guess I would die…

  • Bill in France

    How stupid. I live in a town with no blind people. Why should I have to put up with noise ????

  • SavvyTom

    Don’t know what to think of it, I understand that the blind people are concerned about not being run over all the time… like “oh man, now I got run over again, I wish the cars made more noise”. There’s a way to meet their wishes, a buddy of mine bought on http://www.americanlisted.com a device which use the signals coming from the spark plugs. These are input signals for a device that output a “WROOOOOM” sound to your speakers via your car stereo. That would make the electric cars seem “normal”.
    What do you think?

  • Shrub the War Criminal

    This may be the most inane idea I have ever heard.

    I tried to google how many blind people have been killed by a Prius vs being killed by regular cars/trucks. No luck. That is the data we need. Maybe someone can help with this research.

    I have found few articles that SAY that a person had been hit by a Prius, but none that say any have been killed. And if they were killed, I doubt we would be able to determine whether it was because it was soooo quiet. By the way, even in battery mode, it is NOT quiet.

    In a city, even an regular car may not be heard due to background noises.

    Are we going to put noises on bikes, joggers, too?

    And what the hell are blind people doing walking in the street? They do use crosswalks and anyone that hits one in a crosswalk, Prius or no Prius is guilty of negligence, noise or no noise.

    This is just one more ploy by the Amerikkkan auto industry or the oil industry to demonize a great vehicle that they either can’t or will not make .

    It is the best car I have EVER owned.

  • Shrub the War Criminal

    This may be the most inane idea I have ever heard.

    I tried to google how many blind people have been killed by a Prius vs being killed by regular cars/trucks. No luck. That is the data we need. Maybe someone can help with this research.

    I have found few articles that SAY that a person had been hit by a Prius, but none that say any have been killed. And if they were killed, I doubt we would be able to determine whether it was because it was soooo quiet. By the way, even in battery mode, it is NOT quiet.

    In a city, even an regular car may not be heard due to background noises.

    Are we going to put noises on bikes, joggers, too?

    And what the hell are blind people doing walking in the street? They do use crosswalks and anyone that hits one in a crosswalk, Prius or no Prius is guilty of negligence, noise or no noise.

    This is just one more ploy by the Amerikkkan auto industry or the oil industry to demonize a great vehicle that they either can’t or will not make .

    It is the best car I have EVER owned.