National Federation of the Blind Not Happy With Nissan LEAF EV Alert Sounds

· · 7 years ago

When it comes to the silence of electric cars, it seems there's no satisfaction to be had. Seriously, it's hard to believe the controversy that gets stirred up sometimes... especially when it arrives in completely unexpected forms.

Having just come back from a week in Japan where I got to test drive the Nissan LEAF for about a half hour, I experienced the LEAF pedestrian alert sounds first hand and my conclusion was that they were no big deal — hell, I couldn't even hear them inside the car, and outside the car they were very faint. In fact, after further reflection I'd call them almost pleasing.

But while I was gone in a different time zone, across the planet and completely discombobulated, it seems that everybody else weighed in on the alert sound topic... and they weren't happy.

Electric car advocates say that the alert sounds aren't really necessary because EVs are no more dangerous than quiet, modern combustion cars are for the blind, elderly, and children. They lament that much more is lost by the inclusion of sounds on EVs than is gained in safety.

But advocacy organizations for the blind say that not only are EVs more dangerous, they require special sounds to make them safer. In fact, they've been so successful with this argument that a bill now before congress would require all electric cars to have alert sounds of some sort. Personally, I don't know of any conclusive studies that would settle the argument (if you know of any, please post them in the comments).

Right after Nissan's demonstration of its pedestrian alert sounds last week, the National Federation of the Blind came out and criticized Nissan for providing the driver with a switch to turn the sound off if they want. To be fair, every time the car starts up the sounds are automatically turned on and the driver has to make an effort to turn them off, and given the fact that you can't even hear the sounds inside the car, you'd really have to make an effort to remember.

Look, I'm not sure how much more explicit I can be here: the LEAF sounds are a non-issue. People who value the silence of EVs won't even know they are on and because of that, even with a switch to turn them off, the sounds will probably never be turned off. Even if legislation passes that requires them to be on all the time, if the LEAF is a model for the EV sounds of the future then I welcome them because they aren't even close to being a problem. In fact, they add a certain mystique.

Comments

· · 7 years ago

What the Leaf sounds like is irrelevant to this discussion; not only is it subjective, it's not indicative of what any other hybrid or plug-in might sound like. Further, it may not be the sound (or volume) approved by the blind orgs, since it seems that this piece of legislation is being crafted entirely around their opinion and whomever else might be supporting behind the scenes. Worse, it's based on a sketchy study by NHTSA that says on page 1 that it shouldn't be considered conclusive.

The issue is not whether any particular vehicle's sound is palatable, nor to whom. It's that we don't have appropriate data to legislate on this matter, and there appears to be no effort to get any nor consider alternative ways to solve what has yet to be proven to be a problem in the first place.

· · 7 years ago

Chelsea, thanks for the comment. That's exactly what I've been wondering: are there any studies that conclusively prove that EVs and/or hybrids are more dangerous to certain populations? From your comments, it sounds like there aren't. If that's the case, then we clearly need to do more research, as you suggest. It seems like the powers that be have made up their minds because the argument that EVs are dangerous to the visually impaired/distracted simply sounds "right." Currently I'm of the unbiased camp in that I could go either way - if EVs really are more dangerous to the blind I'd be happy if the legislation could strike a compromise, but if not I wouldn't want to see more unnecessary regulation.

You're right in that the issue of how the LEAF sounds in particular may be irrelevant to the bigger picture (say 3 years down the road if the current pending legislation goes through). But in my defense, the LEAF sounds really are quite pleasant :) And, regardless of what the blind advocacy groups say now, they were apparently consulted by Nissan about the sounds themselves and approved of them. What this says to me, is that — using the LEAF as a model — we can strike a compromise and not make the sounds intrusive or ridiculous if we need to. That's all I meant, regardless of how the legislation turns out or what the need for it is.

· · 7 years ago

I don't know of any conclusive studies, though I'd love to see some. (The one study that's cited is here:http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811204.PDF ) It also strikes me that places like London have had many more EVs than we have in a more concentrated space for years- I've not heard of any adverse effects for pedestrians there either, but it seems to me we ought to be asking around and also conducting our own double-blind studies before legislating.

And, I think the "powers that be" have acquiesced to this because it's politically unpopular to question a disabled group. Personally, I think it's more offensive to treat them as being so fragile as to not expect them to have a rational conversation about all of this. And to the extent that sound is an issue, pedestrians on iPods and phones and cyclists are a much larger affected group- but so are the communities who find their property values depressed because they live near a freeway and its attendant noise and pollution. This is a much more complex issue than its made out to be.

· · 7 years ago

Seems like we are in a period, for maybe a year, where every potential problem with plug-in cars is going to be put under a microscope. As much as we all repeat that almost all charging will happen at home so pubic charging is not a huge issue, some in the media will say that EVs won't fly because of lack of infrastructure. Same with the silent threat issue, limited range, and moving emissions to the smokestack. (Did I miss other big ones?)

Get ready for a broken record with the same issues to play over and over again--at least until we have a year or more of real-life experiences from thousands of drivers to point to.

· Christof Demont-Heinrich (not verified) · 7 years ago

Chelsea,
I completely agree with you: It's way more complex than how it's generally been treated. For instance, it's not really only about a single LEAF and the pleasant sounds it seems to emit when it's a singular vehicle. It's also about what hundreds, even thousands of EVs/hybrids/quiet gas cars equipped with artificial noises will sound like together, for instance, on a NYC street, or in a urban parking garage, etc.

BTW, I think I might have actually influenced Jim Motavalli at the NYT to start to treat the EV noise issue as something more than just a story about automakers and the NFB.

I posted a comment to a NYT blog post Motavalli did (I know you posted a comment to this post too) here -- http://community.nytimes.com/comments/wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/17/blind-advocates-disappointed-in-nissan-e-v-sounds-for-pedestrians/?permid=5#comment5 in which I wrote that I wished more in the media would, for instance, talk to anti-noise advocates and, voila, a few days later, Motavalli posted this -- http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/21/anti-noise-activists-oppose-sounds-for-electric-cars/.

In fact, as you know we've done a series of stories on EV noise at SolarChargedDriving.Com in which we've talked to separate players in the debate. I'll be talking to anti-noise pollution and urban noise researchers and experts for the next part of the series.
-- Christof Demont-Heinrich
Editor & Founder, SolarChargedDriving.Com

· Anonymous (not verified) · 7 years ago

I was hoping that the LEAF would make a little ringing bell sound and announce "on your left" every time you passed a gas power car ;-)

· · 7 years ago

"Get ready for a broken record with the same issues to play over and over again--at least until we have a year or more of real-life experiences from thousands of drivers to point to."

It's true, Brad, that molehills will become mountains and be replayed ad nauseam in the media, particularly the more media perpetuates stories based on the press release without asking deeper questions. However, we do have thousands of EV drivers and more than a dozen years of experience working with them- sadly, little of it's being called upon.

· · 7 years ago

Tinnitus sufferers like myself would disagree with this whole alert sound BS.
Imagine a highway full of these things!
The world is loud enough.

· · 7 years ago

Unfortunately, the NFB and other disabled advocacy groups have had pretty much a license to do whatever they wanted (not necessarily all bad) for quite a while. It would be nice to find out whether they are getting supported by anti-EV groups, whether this is just an ego/power trip, or whether they are just plain misguidedly trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist.
Personally, I believe that instead of making EVs noisier, we should mandate that ICE vehicles make less noise, now that there actually is an alternative. The less the ambient noise, the easier it will be to hear the more subtle tire noises that we can't even hear above the normal urban din.
This really won't matter though since the stupid people (as well as ambulance chasing lawyers and juries) have now been given a means of blaming someone perceived to have deep pockets when they get hit - even if they did have their iPhone blasting music into their earphones.

· · 7 years ago

I forgot to add: If the sounds add a mystique then the manufacturers can add them - VOLUNTARILY. Just don't ram something stupid and unnecessary down our throats, even if it may not be too annoying.

· jonak (not verified) · 7 years ago

What about having a person with a red flag walk ahead of the EV ?

· Tom M (not verified) · 7 years ago

Chelsea's comment "it's politically unpopular to question a disabled group" is spot on. I doubt the NFB even actually started this. It was probably brought to them by some entity that is part of the machine that has been fighting EV's for years now. We are finally at the point where the major auto manufacturers are coming on board and are planning to introduce BEV's to their lineups. We have to continue to fight ridiculous legislation like this. What's next? How about making it mandatory that all EV owners have AAA because we all know that you will be running out of charge all the time and clogging up the highways when you have an EV. Let's think what other scare tactics we can come up with.
Seriously though, this noise legislation if passed will really have an impact on EV sales. It questions their safety, and makes them look like toys. When someone see's a Leaf on the road for the first time and hears the loud beeping noise they are going to say to themselves " I'm not driving that ridiculos thing"

· · 7 years ago

Ouch. When I read this: "People who value the silence of EVs won't even know they are on..." I immediately ask myself, "If people who value silence can't hear this alert, how will the blind people know the car is there?"

· · 7 years ago

Then Brad mentions that we'll know more once "we have a year or more of real-life experiences from thousands of drivers to point to."

And Chesea points out what I was going to say: We already have thousands of drivers with EV experience that in many cases goes back 13 years now.

Those of us with the experience are not being asked for input, of course. Those of us who will be the most impacted by a "minimum sound" law are not being asked for input either.

Can I just mention here - just for the sake of argument - should we consider a siren and flashing light that the blind could wear when they're around cars? Something that would be activated any time a car approached? Would sure make it a lot easier to see and identify them from the driver's seat. My guess is the blind could make themselves much safer this way. I mean... since we're all guessing here...

· · 7 years ago

I also find interesting that, assuming further research bears out that there's a problem, other technical solutions for the vehicle aren't being considered besides passive, constant noise. Obviously Chevy (sorry, Chevrolet) is using a driver-engaged system on the Volt that EV1 drivers remember, but we also have an abundance of sensor technology that could create noise and/or alert the driver only when there's something in front or or behind the vehicle. We have cars that can parallel-park themselves, but won't explore a solution with the most benefit for the least negative impact?

· Rob Stelling (not verified) · 7 years ago

I have made comments on other EV sites, and I have written letters to my congresspeople. I hope I am not repeating some things here, as it seems that most of it has been said well. I do have a few more remarks, though:

First, One of the Above lump noiselessness in with range issues and calls it a "Problem". The years I drove the EV, the Silence was the most impressive to new riders, and the most desired. It is most definitely NOT a problem.

Secondly, I am convinced that if silent EVs and hybrids are compared to many of the upscale cars, one would find they, too, need noisemakers. It cannot affect just electric driving mode. It must be based on a level of produced sound, and here, again, silence is a goal. Gas cars will need noisemakers, too.

Thirdly, and lastly, I am concerned that all this talk will not get the attention of all the "lawyers" trying to pass this. I get form letters from my congresswomen. I know they never hear of it. One of them is in the group writing this for law. I feel like I have no voice. I sincerely hope that this forum is somehow brought to the attention of these people.

Thanks.
Rob

· · 7 years ago

Hi, I'm Darell. And I'm a member of the NCOTLAB - National Coalition of the Living and Breathing. It has come to the Coalition's attention that gasoline cars are killing ten's of thousands of people every year in the US alone. They're killing women. Children. The blind. The deaf. The good, the bad and yes... even the ugly. And these deaths are only from the pollution they create! We hereby demand that all current cars be brought up to ZEV standards before another vehicle is sold.

· · 7 years ago

I very much object that special interests, lobbyists, lawyers, and lawmakers would push to add to the noise pollution on our streets. Yes, I recognize that "silent" cars might pose a danger to blind pedestrians, but requiring all electric and hybrid vehicles to emit warning sounds at low speed is NOT the solution.

Certainly a better solution is the one that GM already implemented in the EV1 years ago, and is currently planning to install in the Volt: if drivers flick their high-beam lever at under 18 mph, a speaker emits a friendly "chirp" (to warn the blind, pedestrians with earphones, etc.), and the lights flash (to also warn the deaf).

An even better solution would be to install transponders in cars which signal specialized "beepers" carried by both blind and deaf people to emit a sound and vibrate when a "silent" vehicle enters a certain proximity. We already have the technology, and it costs no more than a cheap cell phone. In other words, yes: warn the blind AND the deaf of the potential danger, but do NOT add to the cacophony of our streets for everybody else. The fact that .6% of the population suffer from a lack of sight should NOT impose such abuse on the ears of the other 99.4%. That is the epitome of rudeness.

I question if proponents of this regulation have seriously thought about the consequences. Just imagine how this would add to the already intolerable clamor of our streets, each and every time an EV driver turns a corner, slows down for a school zone, enters a driveway, comes to a stoplight, negotiates a parking garage, pays at a toll booth, crosses a speedbump, goes through a car wash, pulls up to a curb, circles a roundabout, or inches along in a traffic jam. Horrendous!!!

Our lawmakers need to rethink this issue. The alternative suggestions above would work much better than what is currently proposed.

· · 7 years ago

I have posted the information below elsewhere, but will also add it here.

If any of you would like to write to those whom I have contacted about this issue, I am providing below the links I gathered for the "My Nissan Leaf" forum (http://www.mynissanleaf.com/).

This is the forum's poll on the issue:
http://www.mynissanleaf.com/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=570

And here is the petition that a forum member started:
http://environment.change.org/petitions/view/vsp_mandate_is_ridiculous

These are the members of the Senate Committee proposing the "Motor Safety Act 2010":

John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Chair, Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee
Mark Pryor (D-AR)
Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Tom Udall (D-NM)
Mark Begich (D-AK)

You can write them, as well as your own senators, by clicking on their links in the Senate Directory Page:
http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

Here is the Representative Directory Page to contact your representatives:
https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml

Here is the National Highway Traffice Safety Association's e-mail page:
http://www.nhtsa.gov/nhtsa-dpmextn/jsp/email/email_nhtsa.jsp

You can contact the National Federation of the Blind by writing to:
pmaurer@nfb.org

Finally, here is Nissan's e-mail page:
http://www.nissanusa.com/apps/contactus

· · 7 years ago

Used Trucks -

I'm not sure what your comment has to do with sound-making and the blind... but what the heck.

I contend that the "main problem" with EVs is not that they cause pollution. The fact of the matter is EVERYTHING we do causes pollution on some level. So our goal is to choose the least-polluting process that still gives us what we're looking for. In the area of motorized transportation EVs cause less pollution than gas cars. And the many of us who have EVs and PV systems create very little pollution indeed.

Your example has very little to do with reality since gas cars don't run on the same fuel we use to make electricity. And couple that with the fact that if we do the energy conversion of one gallon of gasoline - an EV can travel about 100 miles on that energy, while a gasoline car (at best, say a Prius) does about 50 miles.

But again... I'm not sure why we're talking about that in this thread.

· · 7 years ago

Hi darelldd,

I understand the point that the post is about the silent EV's as they do not make noise and it is dangerous to the blind people, But i have dragged a point in between to know that does these EV prove what they say, mean do they really save fuel, we are already in fuel crisis and again such vehicle could cause more pollution if they require more fossil fuel to be burnt to have a single charge, rather than using a combustion engine, And also what about its maintenance and will those vehicle work in rainy season.....

Used Trucks :)

· · 7 years ago

kevinanchi,
I agree that IF an EV used more energy than a gasoline engine then it would possibly not be an improvement over gasoline engine, unless, of course there happened to be more sources of electricity in the world than there are oil.
If this were the case then I'm sure non of the pundits around here would be wasting their time promoting EVs.
However, it turns out that electric motors don't get very hot so they don't waste nearly as much energy as gasoline engines. darelldd is right.
AND
There are a lot more ways to make electricity than there are ways to make gasoline.
Therefore EVs make more sense in both regards.
AND
Many of the ways of producing electricity don't pollute very much
So when comparing a mile driven in an EV with one driven in a gasoline car:
There is less energy consumed in the EV
There is less pollution caused by the EV
There are more sources of the energy for the EV
This is much of what motivates the pundits for EVs.
Well designed EVs also do just fine in the rain since there is insulation on the wires and the terminals are all protected. Submarines used to all run off of batteries.
Maintenance for an EV is minimal since there are so few moving parts, low heat, and very little vibration. There's no oil to change, no spark plugs to replace, no timing to adjust, very few pumps, very little or no coolant, the brakes get little wear (regenerative brakes), no exhaust pipes or mufflers to rust, etc

· · 7 years ago

EVs use less energy
EVs create less pollution
EVs work in the rain, the sun, the wind and the snow.

And they aren't even "silent." They just cause much less noise pollution as compared to ICE vehicles.

· · 7 years ago

Ex.) One of the best The Diesel Electric Train .Lot of work for the amount of energy used !

· · 7 years ago

@TechExplorer,
I agree with you but I don't usually use the Diesel Electric example to address the tired efficiency argument because most don't have a battery and the trolls attacking generally claim that the battery is a problem.
Also, in the Diesel Electric, the main reason for the electric drivetrain is to handle the torque conversion. Nobody has found a mechanical transmission yet that can handle the extreme loads that a train engine must that is close to the reliability and efficiency of the electric one. In Diesel Locomotives, some refer to the generator-motor as the transmission.

· · 7 years ago

if it sounded like a MAC Truck they still would be unhappy !

· Fergus (not verified) · 7 years ago

I live in an area of upstate New York with a high per capita number of Prius vehicles. As an avid cyclist, I have come to rely on sound and sight to ensure my safety on the roads. With traditional vehicles, be it a car, pickup, large truck or a bus, a sound signature is always present to alert cyclists of a oncoming vehicle. I usually hear a vehicle approaching long before I see it. With a hybrid vehicle like the Prius, I have been caught off guard a few times. A number of times the group I'm cycling with have been startled to find a Prius quietly (and patiently) driving behind us. This is particularly true when these vehicles approach a speeds below 20 mph. We cannot hear them approach! This silent approach can be a problem in low speed environments like village streets or on quiet back roads in the country. Everyone in my cycling group are good riders attuned to the nuances of the road and use good riding practices yet the quietness of these vehicles can be disconcerting. Over the last couple of years we have learned to look over our shoulder and in our mirrors more frequently. It's not just the blind which are threaten by these vehicles but many of the elderly, the hearing impaired (a growing population) and the dim-witted. Fortunately at this point in time, most hybrid drivers are kindly sorts who are sensitive to the environment around them. The real problem will develop as hybrid vehicles become the mainstream vehicles and the aggressive drivers who currently cause so much mayhem become the hybrid drivers of the future.

· · 7 years ago

I am an avid cyclist as well, and ride more miles than I drive a car. I also own an EV (our main vehicle for ten years) and a Prius.

A couple of comments:
* It is the job of the motorist not run over anything or anybody. Even if the vehicle you didn't hear "startled" you - as long as it didn't hit you, it's all good, yes?
* In quiet environments, I can hear hybrids coming up behind me, and can even tell the brand of the vehicle
* In louder environments, I can't hear much of anything that comes up from behind me until it is already close enough to do me damage. I use my mirror constantly. When riding at speed (above 18 mph or so) there is enough wind noise to prevent me from hearing anything much before it is next to me.
* As EVs and hybrids catch on, much of the masking noise around us will be reduced, and we'll be able to hear MORE of what is going on.
* I rarely can hear the other cyclists around me. I keep track of them the same way I keep track of any other vehicle that may or may not be near me.
* Somehow we (meaning you and I and most other accomplished cyclists) manage to not mow down pedestrains in our path, though they likely can't hear US coming.
* I KNOW that you've been startled by regular gas cars that you didn't hear until they were near enough to do harm. It happens. You have to be alert, and you deal with the situation when it comes up. You learn to use your mirror more, or you just get immune to the startle factor and trust that nobody will run you over. Not a whole lot you can do about that aspect regardless of how much sound the car makes!

Anyway... please keep riding - as much in place of driving as you can. And then we're all safer.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 7 years ago

I also cycle(competitively) and agree with Darylldd that I can rarely hear vehicles when I'm training because of wind noise. I rely on my sight and sight alone as that is all I'm 100% confident in.

As for these artificial sound makers that are driver activated, why not just use the horn? All cars have them already and they work pretty well.

· · 7 years ago

Fergus
Perhaps the Prius drivers are the only ones who slow down to 20 mph while passing you. The rest just fly by you at 50 mph without slowing down. I can believe that you can hear big trucks approaching but I have trouble believing you can hear a small non-hybrid Lexus coming up on you at 20 mph any better than a Prius.

· · 7 years ago

@ ex -

Amazingly, even the big loud trucks are often un-hearable before they're on us. I ride with a regular group. Two of us have mirrors, the other two don't (citing the dork factor of all things). The two of us with mirrors are constantly calling out the cars (mostly gas cars, and big trucks!) to the others who simply can't hear them coming when we're at speed.

· · 7 years ago

I'm also an avid cyclist, and I long for the day when there will be much less exhaust and ground-level ozone to breathe! Ever since my teenage years, I have bicycled for transportation whenever possible, in addition to riding my road and mountain bikes for both fun and exercise.

As for the noise of approaching cars, I'm with Darell. Even though I usually ride alone, I often don't hear late-model ICE vehicles until they are right upon me. It's not generally a big deal, since I make a habit of staying well to the right, making it easier for cars to pass.

· · 7 years ago

Today's cars, especially the luxury brands, are extremely quiet. You really only hear the engine when it is under heavy acceleration. Take (as ex-ev1 pointed out) a new Lexus, non-hybrid cruising long at 30-35mph. All you really hear are the tires unless the driver punches the accelerator. Car makers have spent a lot of money making their cars as quiet as possible. How many times have you seen someone try to start a running car in a parking lot because it was so quiet they didn't hear it running?

I have a very close friend that is a competitive cyclist. He trains every morning at 4:30 am and rides about 45 miles. He told me he really only hears trucks or cars with modified exhausts when he is riding and relies on sight. His seeing the cars and the drivers seeing him.

· · 7 years ago

The sounds that the leaf in video was testing was min. sound could live with that,but the video of Prius sounds was @ the point I could not Purchase such a vehicle.

· · 7 years ago

2011 Plug-in Prius ,good thing its optional $ 150 .00 purchase in Japan @ this point in Testing/ PR

· · 7 years ago

If you ride a road bicycle and do not have a mirror you fail. Might as well remove the helmet and wear blue jean shorts.

This whole idea of forcing cars to make sounds is absurd and frankly childish. I can see a slight argument for people that are blind but of course no one is telling Mercedes Benz that their cars are too quite.

· · 7 years ago

Scott: Let's not turn this into a discussion about bicycle mirrors (I don't happen to use one).

However, I agree that cars shouldn't be forced to make noise. Perhaps blind people could be helped by sensors that detect oncoming vehicles and objects for them; somebody's probably already doing this. I don't like the idea of putting unnecessary liability on car drivers. Would I be opening myself up to a lawsuit if my LEAF's audible warning system stops working and I drive it around "silently"??

· · 7 years ago

Scott -

There are many, MANY competent cyclists that don't use mirrors - and still are aware of their surroundings. For my money, I'm quite dependent on my mirror, and almost can't live without it. Really, the odd thing for me is that it is illegal to ride with earphones (even though I can't hear much around me due to the wind noise) yet it is perfectly legal to ride on the road while totally deaf, with no mirror, with no training, and/or with no cycling competence. Go figure.

· Hyundai i10 (not verified) · 6 years ago

Its an amazing cars. Audi is all ready to make a firm stand in the Indian terrain.

· · 6 years ago

If I'm ever required to retrofit our current hybrid or future EV to make noise, I'd be tempted to make it sound like an old, loud, clunker gasoline car just for fun! :-) Perhaps instead of downloading ringtones, one day we'll download "cartones".

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