Berkeley’s Silent Menace

Geodog on how the Prius has become the new Volvo, and the danger to bicyclists and pedestrians of having a lot of silent cars on the road (owners say the car is “stealth mode” when runnning on battery power):

With the Prius, you don’t get any warning — the car literally sneaks up on you. After nearly being run over several times in the last month, and again this night on the way back from the Berkeley Cybersalon, I did a little research and turned up quite a few mentions of this problem, the scariest from a blind person’s perspective … the Toyota engineers need to find a way to make the car nosier, even if it involves something as silly as recordings of internal combustion engine noises that the car plays through an external speaker when the car is in battery mode.

While I’ve certainly noticed the local upwelling of Pria (is that a legitimate pluralization? probably not), I personally haven’t had close calls with them. But then I haven’t been biking as much lately due to knee problems. I think the problem is offset by the fact that the kind of person who buys a Prius is likely to be a more considerate driver to begin with. I have a lot more close calls with drivers of SUVs, and with people talking on cell phones (regardless the model of car). Remember too that all cars have become much more quiet in the past decade — it’s gotten to the point that a vehicle from the 1970s seems loud in contrast.

Music: Caetano Veloso :: Genipapo Absoluto

5 Replies to “Berkeley’s Silent Menace”

  1. You know, the really sad thing is is that this is not a new comment/complaint. I remember reading and hearing about this very issue prior to the launch of these things. I had thought that they had done something about it, but apparently not.

    Of course, you can always go completely eco-friendly and buy a recent used VW turbo diesel – run it off bio-diesel (or grease it) and get even better mileage than a hybrid. While they still have a little bit of the trademark diesel rattle, they’re much quieter now (yet still have enough engine noise to make sure nobody is snuck-upon). That said, it would be really sweet if they would make a hybrid diesel so you can get even better than 50mpg.

  2. VW seems to be the only car diesel option available in the US/Canada right now, which is too bad, ’cause VW does not seem to be a safe buy.

    The diesel options in Europe seem to be excellent though, so perhaps if gas prices rise a little more we’ll start seeing some cross over.

  3. Just like with any car, you’re going to find people with awesome experiences, some with bad experiences.

    My current car – 2000 Passat – is my second, 5th in my immediate family. When the budget allows, I’m going to be looking for a Golf TDI. This guy’s experience, while really unfortunate, has not been one that I, nor any other VW owners I know, have had.

    As for more diesels here in the US, we’ll probably start seeing more influx in 2006 when we finally have decent quality standards that are up to par with the rest of the world (and, consequently, meet CA emissions standards).

  4. Bicyclists need rear-view mirrors and ears free from
    earbuds or headphones, so they can hear and see as much
    as possible. No listening to the iPod while bike-commuting
    (or talking on the cellphone–I see this faaarrr too often
    performed by helmetless buttheads in my neighorhood).

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