Darwin turns in grave

Posted on November 8th, 2009 by


Darwin turns in grave

The story of hybrid cars being ‘too quiet’ has been around for a while.  Treehugger covered it last year, and a small online poll they ran showed general annoyance with the idea.

Indeed, given the antics of musical car horns, whistle tips, and large mufflers, the idea of artificial noise being installed in hybrids is not an appealing one.

But there does seem to be a genuine problem here, and Radio Netherlands Worldwide’s rather endearing Earthbeat program brought in Lawrence Rosenblum – a perceptional psychologist from the University of California Riverside to talk about it.

He argued that pedestrians are being hit by hybrid cars in greater numbers than other cars, because they don’t have car noise to warn them of approaching danger.  He argued in very reasonable terms for hybrids to make an artificial sound when they are traveling at less than 20 miles per hour.  This is the speed at which hybrids are almost silent, and also a common speed in pedestrian zones.

Lotus has been looking at installing sound devices in hybrids.  Image from Lotus, via Treehugger.

Lotus has been looking at installing sound devices in hybrids. Image from Lotus, via Treehugger.

As cars travel faster, sounds associated with wind resistance and tyre movement start to take over.  He noted that the sound would help the blind, but also be a much more subtle cue for people with full sight.

It’s a bit annoying to think that we have to artificially make things more noisy, but not such a big deal in the scheme of things, and surely a debate worth having.

Enter Paul Scott from Plug-In America

His main objection to the idea was that it would drive him “crazy”, but he then carried on with some real craziness…

He resorted to saying the way to save peoples’ lives is to not burn petrol and diesel.  Not a very productive contribution to a clear question of whether to put a noise into a car to reduce pedestrian deaths and injuries.

When he eventually conceded that such an artificial noise could save lives, he said that it would be the lives of people who step out into traffic without looking, and that in this age of ipods, people should take personal responsibility.

He then started talking about the Darwin awards.

If this sort of cold dismissiveness came from a captain of industry it would be rightly slammed.  Why do people who are generally on the right side of the environmental debate think it’s ok to say things like this?

It’s a view which is self-righteous and unthoughtful and it’s also appalling advocacy.

The environmental movement has far too much of these things already.