To Keep Visually Impaired Safe, Electric And Hybrid Vehicles Will No Longer Stay Quiet

Nov 25, 2019

Electric vehicles, equipped with a special manufactured sound at low speeds, are already hitting the car lots. The U.S. government will require the otherwise quiet vehicles to make noise by September 2020, to alert blind, visually impaired and distracted pedestrians.

Deanna Lewis and her guide dog Mambo.
Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU

Deanna Lewis is a guide dog user and works at the Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired.  She is looking forward to the sound as a protection against distracted drivers who sometimes come out of nowhere. "Even something as simple as the back-up signal the big trucks have, the beep-beep-beep," she says.

Clovernook CEO Chris Faust does worry about his employees who walk to work on busy Hamilton Avenue. "They walk to and from work which - that's where it's vitally important with the new legislation that's going to have noise."

Each car manufacturer is developing its own sound. Ford worked with the National Federation of the Blind and Leader Dogs for the Blind to create the most effective sound. Explorer Marketing Manager Lee Newcombe says the Ford sound reminds him of somebody hitting a note on an organ.

"It was one of numerous sounds we tested including traditional exhaust noises. This one seemed to be very popular and very effective," he says.

Mercedes didn't stray too far from the traditional engine sound. Jaguar's noise was more like a spacecraft but The New York Times reports it caused pedestrians to look at the sky rather than the road so Jaguar settled on engine noise.

The Chevy Volt sound is kind of space-like. Automotive News Reporter Michael Wayland tweeted about it.

BMW hired a composer and Tesla told the Times its vehicles could have a suite of sounds even including the bleat of a goat.

Some car manufacturers are not only thinking of people when developing their sounds. The Verge reports an independent Toyota manufacturer and distributor in Uruguay is thinking about having cars emit a sound that encourages plants to absorb nutrients and grow.