Quiet-car risk dis­puted

Wor­ries about elec­tric ve­hi­cles have been tested, writes Mark Hinch­liffe

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Onroad -

NOT only are hy­brid cars dan­ger­ously quiet for pedes­tri­ans, but so are some mod­ern, con­ven­tional cars.

An RACQ study has found no dis­cernible dif­fer­ence in au­di­ble de­tec­tion of ap­proach­ing ve­hi­cles be­tween petrol-elec­tric hy­brid cars and con­ven­tional cars from the same man­u­fac­turer.

The study by RACQ re­searchers Rus­sell Man­ning and John Ewing fol­lows com­plaints in the US by or­gan­i­sa­tions rep­re­sent­ing pedes­tri­ans and blind peo­ple that hy­brids are dan­ger­ous be­cause they are so quiet.

Man­ning says the study, con­ducted with the help of Vi­sion Aus­tralia, tested four ve­hi­cles with 11 vol­un­teers, five of whom were blind.

‘‘There was no sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in the de­tec­tion dis­tances be- tween hy­brid and sim­i­lar-sized con­ven­tional ve­hi­cles in a typ­i­cal ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment with typ­i­cal ur­ban am­bi­ent noise lev­els,’’ his re­port reads.

‘‘This is not to say that hy­brids are not a risk, only that they are no more of a risk than equiv­a­lent, con­ven­tional ve­hi­cles un­der these con­di­tions.’’

Man­ning says noise reg­u­la­tions are not a con­cern.

‘‘To sug­gest that mod­ern cars, be they hy­brid or con­ven­tional, are too quiet could lead to the con­clu­sion that noise reg­u­la­tions are too strin­gent,’’ he says.

‘‘We be­lieve lower noise lev­els are, on bal­ance, good from an en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial as­pect.’’

Vol­un­teers in about 40 per cent of cases were un­able to de­tect ve- hi­cles ap­proach­ing at 60km/h from a safe dis­tance.

‘‘Had they been in the path of the ve­hi­cle, con­tact would have re­sulted and in sev­eral cases po­ten­tially se­ri­ous in­jury or fa­tal­ity may have oc­curred,’’ the re­port found.

Man­ning says tyre and wind noise are the main au­di­ble sig­nals of ap­proach­ing ve­hi­cles, ei­ther hy­brid or con­ven­tional.

‘‘The lack of, or re­duc­tion in, me­chan­i­cal noise from hy­brid ve­hi­cles did not ap­pear to sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease the risk fac­tor,’’ the re­port said.

Sev­eral man­u­fac­tur­ers of hy­brid and elec­tric ve­hi­cles have been work­ing to cre­ate ar­ti­fi­cial noise.

Nis­san en­gi­neers worked with blind peo­ple to cre­ate spe­cial fre­quen­cies for their Leaf elec­tric ve­hi­cle, ex­pected to ar­rive in Aus­tralia in the next year.

Toy­ota and its lux­ury branch, Lexus, which ac­count for the bulk of hy­brid cars avail­able in Aus- tralia, are also tack­ling the wor­ries about noise.

Lo­tus En­gi­neer­ing has de­vel­oped a re­al­is­tic en­gine sound for elec­tric mo­tors that varies with speed.

The world’s first all-elec­tric su­per­car, the Tesla Road­ster, is get­ting a ‘‘space sound generator’’ on its Brabus-tuned mod­els.

Own­ers will be able to set their Tesla to make noises sim­i­lar to a V8 en­gine, a race­car en­gine or two ‘‘fu­tur­is­tic sound­scapes’’ named ‘‘Beam’’ and ‘‘Warp’’.

It is likely more sound ef­fects will be added to elec­tric cars un­til gov­ern­ments step in and leg­is­late for the new technology.

The Pedes­trian Coun­cil of Aus­tralia has called for changes to the Aus­tralian De­sign Rules to set a min­i­mum noise for ve­hi­cles pow­ered by an elec­tric mo­tor.

Vi­sion Aus­tralia wants hy­brid ve­hi­cles fit­ted with beep­ers to op­er­ate when the ve­hi­cles are run­ning on elec­tric power only.

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