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

· · 8 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.

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