One of the complaints against the popular Toyota Prius is that it is dangerously quiet—so quiet that pedestrians, especially those with vision impairments, cannot hear it approaching. Now the automaker will offer an electronic device that can be installed under the hood that mimics the whir of an engine.
When activated, Toyota says the system makes about the same level of noise as a regular car engine, a level that is acceptably safe yet not annoying. The system will be priced at about 12,600 yen ($148) and will go on sale in Japan on August 30.
Toyota spokesperson Monika Saito said that the company is now looking into regulations and considering selling the speaker system in other countries including the United States, but nothing has been decided.
The Prius is a very quiet ride, mainly because it operates on its electric power source most of the time. The complaint is that pedestrians who rely on their hearing to keep them safe on the street are at a much higher risk of being hit, especially when the Prius is moving at low speeds. According to a recent study, hybrid vehicles are twice as likely to be involved in low speed collisions with pedestrians as non-hybrid vehicles.
Toyota plans to offer different versions of the speaker device for its other hybrid, plug-in electric and fuel-cell powered vehicles. In Japan there is a much higher rate of pedestrian traffic deaths due to the overcrowded, narrow and winding streets there. Also, the population there is growing older, making the ability to hear a car driving close by a necessity. In January, the Japanese government released guidelines regarding the danger of silent vehicles (this includes hybrids), and Toyota based its design of the speaker system on those guidelines.
Other automakers like General Motors Company, Ford Motor Company and Nissan Motor Corporation are developing their own systems to make their green cars safer for pedestrians. The device designed for the Prius cannot easily be heard on a noisy street, but makes a tremendous difference in a quieter environment. The device can be turned off with a switch, but automatically turns on each time the vehicle is started.
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