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Japan Says Hybrid Cars Too Quiet


Japan Says Hybrid Cars Too Quiet

Hybrid cars might arguably be better for the environment, but according to the Japanese Transport Ministry, they could be dangerous to some pedestrians, as a result of their near-silence at low speeds. As a result, hybrid vehicles might be required to come equipped with a noise-making device.

The concern is that when operating on battery power it is difficult to hear a hybrid vehicle coming, which could make it a risk for the visually impaired. According to the Transport Ministry is "received opinions from automobile users and vision-impaired people that they feel hybrid vehicles are dangerous."

In response to those concerns, the Transport Ministry gathered a panel of "scholars, vision-impaired groups, consumers, police and the automobile industry to discuss the issue." Their conclusion? "To consider introducing a sound-making function" in hybrid vehicles. Profound!

Far be it from me to point out that even though the engine noise of hybrid vehicles is - generally - greatly lessened they do still produce tyre noise when moving and, perhaps more notably, are generally moving within other traffic. One quiet car amount hundreds of loud ones hardly poses a threat. Not to say that there are probably some occasions where a silent vehicle could be an issue; I just can't think of any.

Whether export-vehicles would be affected should regulations require hybrid vehicle manufacturers in Japan to add sound-emitters to their vehicles is, unsurprisingly, unclear. It's an interesting possibility to bear in mind, though - I'll take a quacking Prius, please.



Go to comments


July 3, 2009, 6:57 pm

When you are imagining it travelling alongside other cars I think you are forgetting about rural areas, where cars are much less frequent and often there are kids playing and riding bikes. Obviously though, ambient noises in these areas will be much less than a bustling city street, where any noise the car makes would be drowned out.


July 3, 2009, 7:04 pm

i hope their proposals go along the line of "artificial engine noise" rather than "inceccent large reversing beep", or even "ATTENTON: YOU MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO HEAR THIS CAR!"


July 3, 2009, 7:16 pm

...or maybe even a Cat Stevens number? Or is that Steven Demetre Georgiou or Yusuf Islam or whatever name he goes by.

ok, maybe not then.


July 3, 2009, 7:17 pm

Not a problem, it should be drivers responsibility to do a little toot just to let cyclists / other cars etc know they are there like they do in places near the Med. That or mandate drivers play some bangin' choons from their iPod car stereo!


July 3, 2009, 7:28 pm

I long for completely quiet cars. I hate this attitude of it's dangerously too quiet, the EU had similar findings. How about if you don't look before crossing you are too dangerous for the roads, or if your car is noisy it's too dangerous for my ears and peace.

iain coghill

July 3, 2009, 7:46 pm

I was once surprised by a Prius reversing silently out of a driveway as I was walking along the pavement. I guess this is the sort of low speed incident which they are concerned over.


July 3, 2009, 7:49 pm

Even in cities it is quite common to be the only car driving down a residential street.

People do use their hearing when on or near roads so I find it quite easy to think of occasions where a silent vehicle could be an issue. Whether adding an artificial noise is the answer, I don't know.

Upon hiring a Prius, a relative of mine commented on how quiet it was to the Rentee, who then responded "That is why they call it the kiddee killer"


July 3, 2009, 8:07 pm

Certainly the most dangerous place for a Hybrid appears to be a carpark. It appears no one looks for pedestrians before reversing, not a problem if I can hear there about to move, but a Prius...

This seems a good idea. (and I want Black Betty by Ram Jam as the soundtrack)


July 3, 2009, 8:24 pm

@Agent 6131: how about if you're blind or have impaired vision? Or the visibility is reduced because of weather? Or the only crossing point is by a blind corner or a hump in the road?

I completely agree that people should be responsible for their own safety, and that excessive car noise is a scourge, but I am also of the view that any safety measure which can be practicably implemented without an unreasonable amount of inconcenience should be implemented, and that it is therefore abundantly sensible for electric cars to emit an unobtrusive low level noise to alert pedestrians of their approach, particularly in built up areas.

I am also a pragmatist, and know that, while in an ideal world everyone would be super-careful when crossing the road, that is not always the case - kids, elderly people and drunks aren't always so observant or so careful, and even sober, healthy adults can be guilty of not paying attention if they are in a hurry, are preoccupied, or happen to be distracted by an attractive passer-by. Can you honestly say you have always stopped, looked both ways, listened, thought and looked again when crossing the road? While you would be quite justified to say that it would be a person's own fault if he was hit by a car because he wasn't paying attention, surely it's better to avoid the accident in the first place, and anything that improves road safety is worth considering. If even one life is spared by this sort of technology, it will be justified.


July 3, 2009, 9:25 pm

Or perhaps we should revert back to the good old days of the automobiles infancy with a bell ringer walking in front of the car, warning any unsuspecting pedestrians.

Well I guess so much for our vision of the future as a quiet and clean society... Perhaps you could get a car with customizeable noise, just like ringtones for mobile phones. Bring a bit of personalization into your Prius.


July 3, 2009, 9:33 pm

Bicycles are quiet too - have been for many many years - the answer - put a bell on which the driver sounds to alert people as to his/her presence. I say small tinkly bells are the answer - but then again dont cars have a built in alert device too - a horn ? Maybe this will make drivers slow down and consider other people rather than racing through 30 limit areas at 60 and using the agressive nature of their driving to intimidate people to stay back on the pavement .... shared areas are the way forward.


July 3, 2009, 9:56 pm

The example of a car in a multi-story is a very good one. If they're parked nose in and go to reverse the only warning pedestrians get is the reversing light. If the pedestrian happens to be in the rather large blind spot on, say, a Prius the driver might not be able to see 'em.

More examples? Sure. Bikes going down quiet roads. People walking on pavements with driveways crossing them. Kids chasing a ball out into the road without looking (yes, they're likely to do it anyway but at least they can hear a normal one). And for those that say 'oh just toot the horn' do you even have a driving licence? If I had a silent car and used the horn every time I did even a short trip in a city and was approaching a potential hazzard I'd be using it more than 50% of the time. Oh, and of course using the horn requires you to move a hand away from the wheel which isn't ideal.

Tarik Bos

July 3, 2009, 10:12 pm

a come on they are clearly talking about the rare instances when a lone hybrid car meets a visually impeared person... and yes that makes them dangerous. plus a noise making device shouldn't be to hard to implement.


July 3, 2009, 10:13 pm

I can see a silent car being a significant hazard while traveling at high speed i.e. > 40mph, especially in rural areas. In a built up urban area I think the hazard ranks about equal with motorbikes and horses (at least in Wimbledon) where all road users need to take extra care. The blind and visual impaired have guide dogs and special crossings so although its a concern I would consider it a low risk.

Oh if they do decide on artificial noise I am customising my smug vehicle to play the brown noise.


July 3, 2009, 10:16 pm

@BOFH_UK You should take a trip out to India that will give you some perspective on driving and the use of horns.


July 3, 2009, 11:26 pm

How about putting a diesel engine in the car? They make a noise, emit slightly more CO2 but do about the same MPG. Call me a cynic but until hybrids are made that do a lot more MPG a diesel is just as good.


July 4, 2009, 12:25 am

Car makers could always offer a high performance muffler as an option lol :)- should be able to hear that deep growl even at low speeds


July 4, 2009, 2:53 am

speaking of Diesels.... where are the diesel/electric hybrids? Submarines have been doing it for pushing 100 years, so why cant cars?

Surely it'd get those efficiency ratings higher, and the stigma of diesel has been destroyed by the decent quality ones out on the market. Plus, if you want a perfomance car then you wont be buying a hybrid anyway right?

VW has a demonstrator model that did 140 mpg, and if you use bio-diesel then its totally renewable as well as low carbon output.


July 4, 2009, 4:27 am

Cars without engine noises is dangerous. Look at it this way, put a decent pair of noise/isolating cancelling earphones on and see how dangerous it can be as a pedestrian. People DO use hearing as well as visuals to cross a road etc.

I see far too many flowers on the road sides of London streets these days. Kids are especially vulnerable...


July 4, 2009, 5:14 am

Quacking, you say?


Tony Walker

July 4, 2009, 6:34 am

Those readers of a certain age are probably thinking what I'm thinking.

The "too quiet" argument was what saw off the trolleybus. I believe (I'm not (quite) old enough to remember) that there were accidents aplenty where people walked out in front of them not having heard the vehicle.

Manufacturers will probably have to make their cars deliberately noisy to avoid the problem with something akin to the NXT speaker technology. Go on, Make my FIAT Topolino EV sound like an Enzo! <big grin>


July 4, 2009, 3:27 pm

@John McLean It's true I have sometimes forgotten to look and you know what saved me? Not the sound of the engine but the incredibly loud tooting. Living in London I see people risk their lives crossing without looking all the time and sometimes they don't make it in spite of the incredibly loud rumbling of the 18 wheeler . It makes no difference.

And yes if you are not careful and the driver was being careful but could not avoid you it is your fault, just as when the driver is not careful we blame them.

We live in a world where noise pollution is completely accepted. Urban centres are so noisy nowadays you have to raise your voice to speak to someone as if you were in a club. I have been waiting for over 10 years for noiseless electric vehicles to bring us back to an acceptable volume.

If cars could have been quiet when they were first made they would have made them so, you are asking to not correct a design flaw based on people having become accustomed to it and using it to their advantage.


July 4, 2009, 3:35 pm

All the comments about the danger to pedestrians are valid, but if drivers are going to have to put up with artificial engine noise then it's only fair that bicycles be fitted with a non-optional noise as well. You may not hear some cars coming but at least you know they're most likely to be on the road where they belong; however while walking I am often nearly run down by cyclists flying silently along the pavement.


July 4, 2009, 8:55 pm

Being Deaf I regularly come close to getting clipped by silent cars, on a deserted corner I must look strange looking left right and back again looking for non-existent cars, better to look silly than dead eh?

I have heard many commentators suggest we add noise to silent cars and I envisage guys putting clothes pegs and playing cards on the cooling fans to create a buzz. Such a dreadful idea we should applaud the idea of quieter roads.

But we DO need a new pedestrians code to be taught to children that teaches them not to trust their ears and LOOK FOR SILENT VEHICLES.

Many standard luxury motor vehicle's are already silent if your doing the ipod walk of death and the best way of protecting them is education.

This should start NOW not after the death toll demands it.


July 4, 2009, 10:15 pm

My point is that if drivers cant rely on the sheer volume of their cars approach into making pedestrians wary - maybe they will slow down to reasonable speeds in urban areas. the sooner drivers realise that pedestrians should always have right of way the better for us all.. And yes I've been driving 30 years before you all claim i'm some non car driving namby pamby ;) like that argument holds any water ....

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