Give us a buzz

Silent-run­ning elec­tric cars will need a warn­ing tone

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - CAR NEWS -

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

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