You don’t want to have too much of anything. Even aspects like silence should never be too exaggerated. Otherwise, you’ll be up for a bad turn.
Silence is not essentially needed for cars. Surely, we want the car to run smoothly. We want it to be muffled so that it will not become a disturbing piece of metal that treads on any road.
Silence is a popular feature for electric and hybrid vehicles. When they are running slowly, the absence of the combustion engine means that they are quiet both inside and outside.
While you might enjoy such a feature, too much silence is dangerous. It is a hazard for pedestrians who are passing along the streets or walking alongside them. Without the engine sounds, the vehicle becomes a jeopardizing tool for those blind and visuall-impaired individuals. Even runners, bicyclists, and children are also at risk. The elderly people are also at danger when these silent vehicles are passing.
Don’t think that it is a small matter that can be shrugged off. For individuals that are visually impaired, the problem is quite a big deal. In 2012, ten percent of the adults in the United States, or more than 20 million people, said that they have difficulties in seeing even while wearing contacts and glasses. The Centers for Disease Control estimated that another 6 million Americans over the age of 40 would suffer from blindness and low vision by 2030. Such an estimate doubled the figure in 2004.
Keep in mind that pedestrians are always there. You cannot remove them as an integral part of the transportation equation. But alongside their increase is the number of deaths and injuries that involve them. In 2012, 76,000 injuries and 4,743 deaths were accounted for pedestrians. It was a six percent increase to similar data in 2011. Of course, you can say that electric and hybrid cars don’t make up a large population. Hence, it is inconclusive to say that they are the culprit of these accidents.
However, if these hybrid and electric cars will be rigged with engine sounds, there’s a possibility that the number of pedestrian-related accidents will be lowered by 2,790. This is confirmed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The concern about these quiet cars to the pedestrians has been going on for a long time already. In fact, it started way back to 2003, when Deborah Kent Stein of the National Federation of the Blind said that her friend drove her in a Toyota Prius, which is a quiet vehicle in its own right. She didn’t hear anything. “I couldn’t hear any sound,” Kent said. “It was an ‘aha’ moment.”
This concern grew in 2005. The federation publicized the issue and solicited stories from its members about the “scary” experiences they had with these silent cars. Many of these articles were released in newspapers like The Wall Street Journal. In the summer of 2008, the NHTSA started to conduct conferences with representatives from the visually impaired and blind organizations, automotive manufacturers, policymakers, and other stakeholders.
After the conference, the NHTSA conducted separate studies. Both of these studies affirmed the dangers that these silent cars induce to pedestrians, especially when they are driving at low speeds. A study in 2009 suggested that in low speeds, electric and hybrid cars are twice likely to be involved in accidents than their non-hybrid counterparts. Meanwhile, the study in 2011 indicated that pedestrian-related accidents are 35 percent higher with electric and hybrid cars than combustion-engine vehicles. There’s another study from the Highway Loss Data Institute, which found out that hybrid and electric cars are twenty percent likely to be involved in crashes and pedestrian casualties.
Congress passed the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 and was fully enacted in 2011. It mandated the Department of Transportation to craft safety standards for automotive manufacturers to crease sound alarms that would alert pedestrians in their presence if they are moving at speeds that are less than 20 mph.
Under this policy, the sound that should be integrated into the vehicles must be recognizable. This means that the sound must be at least similar to the sound of the combustion engines.