As we've previously reported—to a gregarious response—the topic of adding pedestrian alert sounds to plug-ins and hybrids when traveling at low speeds with little noise is a polarizing one.
Advocacy associations for the blind, elderly and other such higher risk populations argue that these cars are more dangerous to those groups because there are few cues as to their impending approach. Anti-noise pollution organizations say that quieter vehicles are where we want to head anyways, so why would we ruin that kind of progress with self-imposed noises. And, some electric car advocates say that the "silent-but-deadly" argument is just another ploy to scare potential customers away from the vehicles by those determined to thwart the electric car's rise. Some people go even a step further and say that by treating these disadvantaged groups as being so frail and helpless, we are doing them a disservice.
While there is likely truth and wisdom in all of those group's conclusions, what is clear is that it's a topic that little in the way of fact is currently known about. There are virtually no studies that show a positive or negative link between the silence of next gen vehicles and an increase in accidents with unaware pedestrians. Also, no standard sounds have yet been agreed upon by governments or automakers that we can use to evaluate whether or not these are noises we can live with. Almost all of the debates that are occurring about this topic are uninformed to the point that it feels like we're all banging our heads against the wall in a repeated cycle.
Nevertheless, the regulations have started coming—namely in Japan and the U.S.—and in anticipation of eventual adoption of those regulations, builders of these next gen vehicles have started including their own in-house developed pedestrian alert sounds. Nissan, with their LEAF, have included a rather quiet and futuristic electric whooshing sound that drivers can turn off if they want, but otherwise is on all the time when driving at low speeds. GM, with the Volt, has included a driver activated alert sound that chirps when the driver pulls on a lever at the steering column.
And now Toyota, with their Prius and the upcoming Plug-in Prius, have added a new alert sound as well. Initially the sound will be available as an add-on to the Prius in Japan for about $150 extra and will emit a synthesized electric motor sound at speeds below 25 km/h. You can listen to it in the Japanese language video below.
So, even though there are plenty of questions left unanswered about the efficacy and, even, the necessity of pedestrian alert sounds, it seems like the winds of change are clearly blowing in one direction—for better or worse. What do you think, is this something that's inevitable, or is it something we still have time left to evaluate?