Give us a buzz
Silent-running electric cars will need a warning tone
Some cars, such as the Nissan Leaf electric car, already are wired to make a hi-tech hum below 30km/h, for example in in shopping centres and car parks, but the noise can be disabled by the driver at the press of a button on the dash.
Toyota began fitting outside speakers to the Prius hybrid in North America last year — but they’re yet to be fitted to models sold in Australia.
Toyota Australia spokesman Mike Breen says various agencies have expressed concern to the manufacturer that people with impaired vision or hearing could be unaware of an approaching hybrid or electric car.
‘‘ We are working with Toyota Japan to find what would best suit conditions in Australia,’’ he says.
Toyota has sold more than 10,000 hybrid cars in Australia over the past 10 years but says it is yet to receive a report of someone being knocked over by one of its petrol-electric vehicles while in silent mode.
The Holden Volt plug-in hybrid car has what the company calls a ‘‘ polite’’ horn that gives a short toot at half the normal volume.
‘‘ If [external noise] were mandated in North America, the technology would likely make its way on to cars here,’’ says Holden spokesman Craig Cheetham.
Vision Australia regards electric cars as a danger to blind people and the visually impaired and has called for urgent action.
‘‘ It’s a significant safety problem,’’ says Vision Australia spokeswoman Megan Bishop. ‘‘ Environmental sound is critically important for people who are blind or vision impaired.
‘‘ Sound is an essential aid to independent mobility and safety. People have a fundamental right to travel independently as pedestrians.’’
Three years ago, the US Congress ordered an investigation into the dangers caused by silent electric cars. It is likely to become an increasing concern as the population ages.
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates external speakers would prevent 2800 injuries a year and add $30 to the cost of each electric car.
The safety body said it would allow car manufacturers the freedom to choose their own sounds.
‘‘ Our proposal would allow manufacturers the flexibility to design different sounds for different makes and models while still providing an opportunity for pedestrians, cyclists and the visually impaired to detect and recognise a vehicle,’’ says NHTSA boss David Strickland.
Get on the blower: Nissan’s electric Leaf is wired to be audible to pedestrians below 30km/h