GM Says Volt Crew Working to Resolve 'Silent EV' Sound Safety Issue

By John O'Dell November 25, 2009


Chevy Volt Chief Engineer Andrew Farah and group from National Federation of the Blind discuss problems of noiseless EVs and see EV noise-generator demonstration with the Volt in this GM-produced video.

Electric vehicles and hybrids running in all-electric mode can be almost silent when moving at very low speeds or "idling" and accelerating slowly at intersections - a problem for people with limited or no vision.

It's also  a problem for pedestrians who are talking of cell-phones, carrying on intense conversations with others or simply admiring the local architecture as they stroll along -peds who are not paying much attention to the cars on the road.

A recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that electric vehicles and hybrids with an all-electric drive mode are twice as likely as other types of vehicles to be involved in pedestrian accidents at intersections and crosswalks.

The National Federation for the Blind raised the issue of EV noise several years ago and has been lobbying individual states, automakers and the federal government to address the problem by ensuring that cars with all-electric drive capabilities make some sort of noise that will alert the sight-impaired to their presence.

Now General Motors is taking up the issue as it prepares to launch the 2011 Chevrolet Volt at the end of next year.

The Volt is capable of running in near-silent electric mode for up to 40 miles before its grid-charged battery is depleted and its gasoline-burning engine-generator kicks in to keep producing power.

voltNoise1.jpgIn a post this morning on GM's "VoltAge" blog, Andrew Farah, the Chevy Volt's chief engineer, said the automaker is working the with the Federation of the Blind to "identify a safe level of sound to alert the blind and other pedestrians to the presence of low-speed, silent-running" vehicles.

General Motors, some might recall, installed a back-up beeper on the EV1 in the late 1990s because of concerns that pedestrians wouldn't realize that the car was reversing out of parking spots.

GM showed a sample of a pedestrian warning alert on a prototype Volt at its Michigan testing grounds the other day - a gentle horn tone that automatically activated as people pass near the car.

Farah says in the post that the company will work with pedestrian safety groups "to help create an industry standard so that the sound emitted from EVs is recognizable as the sound of an automobile and detectable by everyone."

That's a good thing.

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