Hearing the Future

By the time I have an EV of my own, it should be equipped to emit noise so that it complies with the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010.

Someday soon, I want to drive an electric car, maybe a Nissan Leaf or a Ford Focus Electric. I'm reading up on their costs, range, emissions, federal incentives, and reviews to determine whether the technology is viable for the driving I do, which is roughly 65 miles of mostly freeway commuting every weekday, with 95 degrees F the average high temperature in summer months and 55 F the average high in winter. I'm in no real hurry to buy it.

By the time I have an EV of my own, it should be equipped to emit noise so that it complies with the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010. Signed into law by the president Jan. 4, this law requires the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to ensure manufacturers of electric and hybrid cars add noises to those vehicles that will sufficiently alert blind people and other pedestrians.

NHTSA studied the noise issue before the bill became law. Its report, published last April (http://www.nhtsa.gov/DOT/NHTSA/NVS/Crash%20Avoidance/Technical%20Publications/2010/811304rev.pdf), found that even average people took significantly longer to detect vehicles when they were operating in electric mode. This is a serious problem for those with hearing impairments.

Shortly after the bill was signed, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood said phase two of the research involving tests of synthetic sounds is under way at the Volpe National Transportation Center in Massachusetts. "Congress has asked that electric and hybrid vehicles emit a sound at low speeds so pedestrians recognize when a vehicle is approaching. In our tests, we're trying to find the right balance between quiet roadways and pedestrian safety," he explained.

The Leaf's drive electric tour stops March 18-20 in Washington, D.C., according to http://www.nissanusa.com/leaf-electric-car/index#/leaf-electric-car/. Alas, I won't be there to take a test drive. If you drive it, please send an e-mail to tell me how it felt -- and also how it sounded when you were standing nearby.

This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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