Quiet Hybrid Cars Pose A Danger To The Blind — So What Should They Sound Like?

The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced proposals for minimum sound requirements on hybrid and electric vehicles. They say the vehicles pose a safety issue for pedestrians and cyclists, especially for those who are visually impaired. If you have an idea for how the vehicles should sound, email it to: alltech@npr.org

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Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Transportation finally got serious about something on hybrid cars that we highlighted six years ago on this program. My co-host Robert Siegel was the guide.


The once-predictable sounds of a traffic intersection are now changing. So, out to K Street behind our building in Washington, D.C. This is actually a pretty shabby patch of the street that's renowned for lobbyists a little farther west. On our bit of it, the prostitution is not figurative. And here is the sound of a car approaching.


SIEGEL: Now here's the sound of a hybrid approaching and going past us. That was a pretty subtle sound. And the problem for people who are blind is that the hybrid is the motorized equivalent of a pair of sneakers.

BLOCK: Well, for the first time, on Monday, the Transportation Department proposed minimum sound standards for hybrid and electric vehicles. Cyclists and pedestrians, especially those who are visually impaired, have little warning of an approaching vehicle with a silent engine. So, the National Highway Safety Administration posted some possible sounds to its website, such as this...


BLOCK: And this...


BLOCK: And this...


BLOCK: Well, we think that you, the listener, can come up with some far more interesting and creative sounds for hybrid and electric cars. Please send us your suggestions of existing sounds, perhaps of music...


BLOCK: Or maybe a famous quote...


MARLON BRANDO: (As Stanley) Hey, Stella.

BLOCK: Or something completely different.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) Ridden on a horse?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: (As character) Yes, you're using coconuts.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) What?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: (As character) You've got two empty arms of coconuts, and you're banging them together.

BLOCK: Or you can email us your own suggested sounds for hybrid and electric cars. We ask that they be about 15 seconds long. Send them to alltech@npr.org. You can also go to our website, npr.org, and click on contact us.

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