One of the predominant problems with hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs) is the fact that they are very quiet, especially at low speeds. The internal combustion engine is either shut off or – in the case of a Tesla Roadster EV – not present at all. Under certain conditions, these vehicles can be so quiet that sometimes one can barely hear an EV approaching. This issue is also more readily understood when a person can’t see: the blind must listen to traffic to determine when it’s safe to cross a street, enter a parking lot, or determine whether a roadway is clear. In fact, a recent report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) established that the silent operation of low-speed hybrid vehicles is an issue for all pedestrians, not just the blind. In certain situations, electric or hybrid vehicles are twice as likely to be involved in collisions with pedestrians.
In researching a way to make low-speed hybrid vehicles safer for all pedestrians, GM recently invited some members of the National Federation of the Blind to its Milford Proving Grounds, where a pre-production Chevy Volt was tested for the it produces. What GM is doing here is truly remarkable – The General is doing research for the entire automotive industry by developing an industry-wide sound that EVs and hybrids can produce. That’s right – this can have implications not just for the Chevy Volt, but for all EVs and hybrids out there.
As Andrew Farah (Volt Chief Engineer) put it:
Vehicle sound is not noise; it’s an audio cue and information – for everyone. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we constantly rely on our sense of hearing as we go about our daily lives.
As such, the team doesn’t want the Electric Vehicles Pedestrian Friendly Alert System (EVPFAS – as it’s being named) to be startling; rather, the focus is more on a pleasant “excuse me” sound. That said, the goal is not to create a superfluous non-car resonance, such as a bird: it should be distinctively “car.”
The GM Authority Take
Based on the alert system of the Volt in the video, I would think that – given the option – most drivers would disable the system. The sound currently reminds me of a mix between a toned-down car horn and a regular off-the-shelf car alarm system. On top of that, there’s no telling when the alert will turn on: can you imagine a Volt in bumper-to-bumper traffic getting its EVPFAS on? That said, it’s my opinion that we can’t safely rely on the driver to activate and disable the system manually. This would lend itself to way too many (undesirable) variables.
In any case, I commend GM’s effort here as I see this becoming a legal requirement in the foreseeable future. Oh, and for the record – Tesla, the electric car company that’s just so innovative and hip – isn’t doing anything like this. Bam!
P.S. Did you catch the Volt pre-production model 5196?[Source: Chevrolet Voltage]