Since at least 2007, advocates for the blind have been concerned about the lack of noise from hybrids running in electric mode. The imminent arrival of all-electric cars like the 2011 Chevrolet Volt and the 2012 Nissan Leaf has only raised their level of alarm.
Now General Motors has announced that the engineers developing the 2011 Volt will partner with the National Federation of the Blind to work together on figuring out "a safe level of sound" from the company's first extended-range electric vehicle.
The issue of how to outfit electric vehicles with noise-making equipment has been a thorny one. Consumers and carmakers like the idea of silent operation, but for vision-impaired pedestrians used to listening for cars, that same silence poses an obvious hazard.
Recent preliminary data from a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study appears to show that hybrids hit pedestrians more often than non-hybrid vehicles. With statistical information showing the risk, carmakers are lining up to work with groups like the NFB.
Members of the group visited GM's Milford Proving Ground several weeks ago to evaluate a pedestrian warning alert on a prototype Volt. They listened to the sound at various speeds, and from the front, rear, and sides of the car.
It's worth noting that the concern isn't limited to the blind, either. An alert sound also assists children, runners, cyclists, and others whose safety may depend on knowing that two tons of momentum is hurtling toward them.
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