Sunday, July 4, 2010

Silent Car Noises, A Modest Proposal

In a nation where mildly risky things get legislated more-safe at the expense of individual liberties, Something Must Be Done. If silent-running hybrid (coal-powered) cars were not involved in more car-pedestrian collisions, there would be no need for them to make some sort of a warning noise.

But they are. Silent-running cars are TWICE as likely as noisy ones to be involved in crashes with pedestrians.

They have to be made to make noise. People are being killed by the lovely silence of these cars. You tell a hybrid car owner, "Your car must warn pedestrians it is moving" and they may react with well-justified outrage. Why must it be my car doing the warning? It is the pedestrian's responsibility to get out of my way! (etc. etc.)

The main problem people seem to have with the idea of adding noise to silent cars, is that the drivers of the car will be annoyed by the noise. They are acting on a faulty assumption that the driver will hear the noise at all. It doesn't have to be loud as an F-14 in afterburner. It doesn't even have to sound like a car. It just has to be audible. This article mentions a whirring noise that gets louder with increasing speed, until the car is making normal/regular car noises. They mention a bell sound when the car is moving in reverse. It also mentions the problem of standardization.

The car makers must see the writing on the wall on this subject. Federal legislators will be entirely unable to stay out of it, and local (think: San Francisco) lawmakers will probably seek to regulate it as well. Before the legislatures make them have their cars produce a truly obnoxious sound, the car makers have to have a very public research project into the type and volume of sounds that their new cars will have to make. Then they ought to have ONE sound set for everybody's cars, so that no matter whose car is coming toward a pedestrian, the pedestrian will know a car is coming. THEN they need to have a prominent sales item: "Safe noises for pedestrians, quiet efficiency for car occupants." The car should make noises, yes. But it should be fairly simple to project the noises AWAY from the car's occupants, so that the driver need not hear it.

If car makers are smart, they will head Congress off at the pass and come out with a standardized "car" noise for silent coal-powered cars. Otherwise, something nobody but a Congressional committee likes will be forced on them. If you were a car manufacturer, which would you choose?

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