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Monday, 14 September 2015

Risk management when it goes wrong: artificial sounds on (electric)cars

All over the world (for example USA, EU and Japan) and there are popping up laws banning (or plans for banning) cars that does not make a sound. This as a result of the low level of noise from electric cars at low speeds.
The argument is that if the car doesn’t make a sound you will not look for it and therefore step out in front of it, but also that sound is important for blind persons. The speeds discussed are low, i.e. “parking lot speeds”, at higher speeds all cars make a sound.
Today we have a society where cars are all over the place; this has not always been the case and will hopefully not be the case for ever. Putting warning sounds on cars can only help in situations where cars are the only danger. In all other situations you still need to be careful.
Therefore, banning quiet cars is based on a technocratic view on safety and a narrow understanding of our world (it is not a robust solution). A more robust solution is to teach persons to use appropriate carefulness when moving around. If you can, look where you are going; if you can, listen for sounds that could mean problem; if you can, smell for smells that could hinder your activity and so on and then use the information gained to guide your actions (like lowering your speed if you lack relevant information). This robust solution will work for interactions with cars (silent or not), bikes (silent or not), lions (silent or not) and so on…
At parking lot speed I for one have no problem with stopping for a walking person (blind or not) as long as he or she is not thrown out in front of my car. However, as I biker I have a problem with people with headphones that, without looking, suddenly step out into the bike lane (because they also think, as many legislators do, that everything dangerous sounds a lot).
Do not try to fix a behavioral problem with a technical solution and I am hoping for a quieter future!