Hey, let’s make quiet cars louder!

No, no, no. This is just mad:

Hybrid Cars Too Quiet For Pedestrian Safety? Add Engine Noise, Say Researchers

Important pedestrian safety issues have emerged with the advent of hybrid and electric vehicles. These vehicles are relatively quiet—they do not emit the sounds pedestrians and bicyclists are accustomed to hearing as a vehicle approaches them on the street or at an intersection. In a recent study, human factors/ergonomics researchers examined participants’ preferences for sounds that could be added to quiet vehicles to make them easier to detect.

They’re not even seeing the problem clearly. The problem here is that most cars are insanely loud, not that a very few of them are quiet. The problem is that those of us in cities have to put up with increasing levels of noise pollution. The problem is that drivers of cars (loud or quiet) don’t watch properly for pedestrians and cyclists, nor are they much good at sharing the road with them — or even recognizing that anything other than a car has any right to use our publicly-funded roads (but that’s another rant for another time).

Deliberately add noise and that compensatory human response to safety measures will kick in: my car makes a special noise, so it’s other people’s problem to get out of my way (cf. the beeping noises of trucks backing up — truck drivers never seem to bother checking behind them anymore, assuming the wretched beeps do the job).

The answer is not “make the cars louder”. It is to teach people this: if you’re silent, whether it be as a pedestrian, a cyclist, or the driver of a blessedly quiet hybrid car, pay attention. Assume you’re invisible, or assume the guy trying to cross the road in front of you is blind, or (even better) assume both of those things. You’re not a guided missile aiming for your home or your office, you’re part of the grand dance that is traffic. Try to keep in time and try not to step on people’s toes.

Actually, I’d like the folks using non-silent modes of transport to think that way too.