Why bother making hybrid cars noisy?

April 6, 2014 • Posted in blindness, guide dogs, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized by
If a hybrid idled at an intersection...

If a hybrid idled at an intersection…

There’s been some noise, ahem, lately about regulations to add soundmakers to hybrid cars. You know, so they’d be safer around pedestrians — especially those of us with visual impairments.

I don’t get it.

Maybe it’s because I live in a big city. I walk around a lot with my Seeing Eye dog Whitney. There’s so much traffic here that It’s not likely we’ve ever been at an intersection where one silent hybrid car was sitting alone waiting for a light. If that has happened, we didn’t know it, and it didn’t matter. We still got across the street safely.

People who are blind don’t use the sound of idling cars to determine when to cross a street. We listen for the traffic moving at our parallel to know when to cross. The tires on hybrid cars make noise when they move, so we hear them along with the rush of other cars at our parallel, and that noise tells us it’s probably safe to cross.

I don’t cross a street the minute the light turns green. I wait until traffic starts going my way – the cars stopped in front of us can’t be moving if all that traffic is rushing by in front of them. I give Whitney a command. “Whitney, Forward!” Whitney looks to make sure no one is making a fast turn and that it’s safe, and then she leads me across.

A Chicago benefactor – he doesn’t want to disclose his name– donated a hybrid car to the Seeing Eye School back when I was training with Harper. The donation helped the Seeing Eye figure out a dog’s reaction to the car’s silence, and exposed students like me to what a hybrid does — and does not — sound like.

This morning my brother-in-law Rick Amodt sent me a link to a story from AOL Tech about the European Parliament’s decision to back a proposal that would “require sound-making hardware in new electric vehicles by July 2019.” I must be missing something. Is this really necessary?

Robert Ringwald On April 6, 2014 at 11:59 am

I have a friend who is sighted. He was riding his bicycle and almost got hit by an electric car because he didn’t know it was there – He couldn’t hear it.

I own a Toyota Prius which runs part time on battery and part time on gas powered motor. When I come out of a building and my wife is sitting in the car with it running, but on battery, I have no idea where it is. She has to roll down the window and yell at me. If there is a lot of traffic, I can’t even hear her yelling.

No complaints, just FYI.

-Bob Ringwald

bethfinke On April 8, 2014 at 6:08 am

Yeah, I suppose that’s one reason I’m reluctant to jump on this bandwagon to add sound to hybrids –traffic is so loud already that you can’t even hear your wife calling out to you from the car!


The Empty Pen On April 6, 2014 at 12:49 pm

I also have a Prius. I think it freaks pedestrians out when a quiet car pulls out of a parking space.

What is interesting, is when I put the Prius in reverse. It beeps, but only inside the car. I guess that’s in case the driver forgets that the car is on?

bethfinke On April 8, 2014 at 6:12 am

Aha. Just one more reason for me to avoid walking through parking lots alone with my Seeing Eye dog!


jim On April 6, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Might this be necessary for sighted people?

bethfinke On April 8, 2014 at 6:13 am

Yes, especially those with “smart” phones in their hands.


Dave Hyde On April 7, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Perhaps I can shed some light on the problem. You are right, when everything works like it is supposed to. E.g. cars stop, and stay stopped. Cars do not turn in front of you. There is little enough ambient noise that you can hear the tires of a moving car. Your dog is paying attention, and so are you the handler. Using a cane, the traveler is paying attention. On a day with wind, loud traffic going parallel to you, construction, and other things that make noise, additional information helps to locate those drivers who may not obey all the rules.

There will be rules going into effect for the U.S. as well. Think of quiet cars like you do bicycles. They make just as much noise.

bethfinke On April 8, 2014 at 6:16 am

I see your point, Dave, and thanks for shedding more light on this. Have to disagree about the bike vs.. hybrid car thing, though –Car tires do make a *bit* more noise than bicycle tires, wouldn’t you agree?!


Rick Amodt On April 8, 2014 at 8:07 am

Beth, thanks for the shout out in the recent blog. After I read both the blog and comments, I could not help but think how small a problem this is compared to “ALL THE PEOPLE”, who walk around totally absorbed with their “I-Phone.”
If you can remember back at some scary movie you have seen, when people walk around in a zombie state, that is the current landscape of America. I imagine you and Whitney have quite the workout walking around Chicago. Why is Whitney pulling me left and right sooooooo much. Zombies.

Have a great day


Anita On April 8, 2014 at 8:15 am

Hi Beth. Actually not a bad idea. We share a driveway with our neighbor. He washes his car every day the sun shines (I am not kidding. And here in TN that is quite a lot). On more than a few occasions he has commented about being startled to see (not hear) me come up the drive right next to him and is afraid he may back-up from his task and walk right in front of my Prius. I have taken to not pulling all the way up when he is out or tapping my horn. It’s not a big deal. Some of us are not as aware of the sound of tires as we are of engine noise. Just different radar. On the other hand, sometimes I can sneak up and get out of the drive without our collie barking about my departure to all of her neighborhood friends. My best, Anita

bethfinke On April 8, 2014 at 8:21 am

So glad I published this post — there’s a lot more to this than I thought!


bethfinke On April 8, 2014 at 8:33 am

Oh, and one more thing: the funny thing is that at the same time the European Parliament also wants to start lowering conventional engine noise levels as soon as July 2016 *


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