Braille Monitor                                                 November 2011

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Quiet Cars, Pedestrian Safety, and Protection for the Environment: A Panel Discussion

by John G. Paré Jr., David Strickland, Douglass Moore, and Kevin Ro

From the Editor: For eight years we have been working to see that safe and independent travel by the blind can coexist with the ever-changing propulsion systems used in motor vehicles. On Thursday morning of the 2011 convention, experts conducted a panel discussion featuring consumers, auto manufacturers, and regulators. Here, in significant part, are the remarks made by each member of the panel, beginning with panel moderator John Paré, executive director for strategic initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind:

John Paré
John Paré
John Paré: Good morning, fellow Federationists. On July 4, 2003, almost eight years ago today, we passed Resolution 2003-5 regarding the danger posed by silent hybrid vehicles. The following year Dr. Maurer created the committee on automobile and pedestrian safety to explore the quiet car issue. On February 20, 2008, Dr. Maurer spoke to the working party on noise in Geneva, Switzerland. This group reports to the world forum organization of vehicle regulations, which in turn is part of the Economic Commission for Europe. On April 8, 2008, the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2008, HR 5734, was introduced by Congressman Ed Towns and Cliff Stearns in the 110th Congress, second session. Many people underestimated us. They said that we would not be able to convince car companies, the Department of Transportation, the United States Congress, and the American public that these cars pose a danger to all pedestrians, especially blind pedestrians. But did the National Federation of the Blind give up? No. We ended the second session with eighty-eight cosponsors. We kept advocating, and on January 28, 2009, Ed Towns and Cliff Stearns reintroduced the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, HR 734, and on April 21, 2008, Senators John Kerry and Arlen Specter introduced the Companion Senate bill, S 841.

We kept advocating, and, at the end of the first session of the 111th Congress, the bills had 171 cosponsors in the House and eighteen in the Senate. We kept advocating, and on September 23, 2009, the Washington Post ran a front-page story regarding the work being done in this area. We kept advocating, and on May 18, 2010, after weeks of intense negotiations, we obtained the endorsement of the Association of Automobile Manufacturers on a revised version of the bill. We kept advocating, and on December 9, 2010, the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation sent S 841 to the Senate floor for unanimous consent votes. That day it was passed by the Senate and sent to the House. We kept advocating, and on December 18, 2010, the House voted on S 841 and passed it 379 to 30. We kept advocating, and on January 4, 2010, the president of the United States signed the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act into law. [Applause]

Now there is much work yet to be done. The Department of Transportation must determine just how much sound a vehicle needs to make to be safe. The department must also determine the characteristics of the sounds. We are honored to have the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration here to speak to us today. David Strickland was sworn in on January 4, 2010. Prior to his appointment he served for eight years on the staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. As the senior counsel for the Consumer Protection Subcommittee, he was responsible for oversight of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. He is dedicated to the implementation of measures improving the safety of all roads and especially the implementation of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act. Fellow Federationists, please welcome the United States Department of Transportation administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, David Strickland. [Applause]

David StricklandDavid Strickland: Good morning, NFB. Dr. Maurer, thank you so much for your leadership and your kind invitation to have me here. I know that we have come a long way together on this issue in making pedestrianism and individual mobility better for the blind and by basically making pedestrianism safer and better for every person in America. It's all because of you and your leadership.
I want to take a moment to depart from my prepared remarks to talk about bravery, tenacity, and leadership. Things like the Pedestrian Enhancement Safety Act--they don't happen very often. In the world of vehicle regulation, having a single stand-alone rule to apply to every car made in America is usually tied to a much bigger initiative that usually has funding for highways or something of a larger scope. To do what you did, building a case based on what you recognized early on as a significant risk, not only building your case with the stakeholders and manufacturers but making it to the Congress and making it to the Department of Transportation: this is really breathtaking. I can think of only one other instance in the past thirty or forty years when we've seen a piece of legislation succeed like this: it was also a pedestrian safety issue. The issue was rearward visibility (or back-over protection) to help people see behind them so they don't run over their toddlers. This piece of legislation and this rule is of the same magnitude and scale. It would not have happened without the leadership of NFB and the leadership of all of you. Thank you so much for staying with us and getting this thing done. [Applause]

I had the distinct honor of working on this policy issue in two places. I started, as John said, working for the United States Commerce Committee, which worked on Senator Kerry’s legislation. I remember when John visited me for the first time and how he explained this issue. I admit I am a hybrid vehicle owner, but I've always known that I have to be more careful because people cannot hear me when I am driving at slow speeds in parking lots. So I had to drive not only for myself but for every pedestrian around me. Now, being a person who works in transportation safety, you know that makes me a little more careful than most. There is a risk out there, and so, when John and the representatives with him from the NFB talked about this risk, I said to John, "You have to build a case. If you build a case, you're going to get support; you're going to get the leadership; you're going to get member buy-in; you're going to get it done." You know something? I give that advice to a whole lot of people, but frankly, NFB is one of the few in the crowd to actually make it happen. [Applause]

So here we are. Now, as a former staffer who helped on the legislation and supported you in this effort, I've been blessed with the opportunity to implement this rule, make this a federal motor vehicle safety standard for every vehicle in the United States. I have had the honor and pleasure to see it at its beginning and now, I hope, to shepherd it to its conclusion. It's a really special honor for me; for the secretary of transportation, Ray LaHood; and the entire team of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to be here.

In addition to thanking all of you for your hard work, your effort, your leadership, and your tenacity, I have an announcement to make today. We've had a number of folks in a number of meetings. I know that Deputy Administrator Ron Medford made a presentation to you about the work that's been going on since 2008: the public hearings, the outreach to the stakeholders, to the Society of Automotive Engineers, and to all the automakers. You know, our study showed there was an increased risk from silent hybrid vehicles to all pedestrians. This is true whether you're blind or sighted, young or old. All of that work led to the passage of the Act, and, luckily, because my agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, was already well underway to take action on its own, we had the background research done. When the Act passed, we were well ahead of the game, which was a really good piece of news.

But today I want to announce our first official milestone in making this rule a reality. Today the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent to the Federal Register the scoping notice for the environmental impact of adding sound to vehicles. It is a thirty-day public notice for comment, but it is the first step on the road. The second step, a year from now, will be the proposal for the rule, and in 2014 we'll be issuing the final rule. We will add the right sound to every silent vehicle produced in the United States and make you and your family safer. Frankly, we will take what we've learned in the United States and, working with the international community and taking leadership, will add sound to silent vehicles around the planet. That's where we want to be. Frankly, this vision, this hope, and this dream would not have happened if it wasn’t for that brave step you took with your resolution back in 2003. NFB, thank you not only for making every pedestrian in America safer but for building the foundation for making every pedestrian around the planet safer. Thank you so much, and God bless all of you. [Applause]

John Paré: Mr. Doug Moore is responsible for vehicle noise regulatory compliance at General Motors and is a recognized expert on vehicle sound. He is the chairman of the ISO Standards Committee, responsible for international standards for exterior noise test procedures. He is also the chairman of the SAE Taskforce on Minimum Vehicle Sound. He serves as a technical expert to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. Mr. Moore visited the National Federation of the Blind to find out what it would be like to walk around with a long white cane. He was blindfolded and walked around the streets of Baltimore with Ron Brown as his instructor. As each car passed by, he not only noticed it but would tell Ron, "Oh, that was a 2005 Chevy Camaro," or maybe, "I think that car over there, that's a 2009 Cadillac Escalade." Mr. Moore is absolutely expert on sound. Please welcome, from General Motors, Mr. Doug Moore. [Applause]

Doug MooreDoug Moore: Thank you, and good morning, delegates, officers, and guests of this convention. As was said, I'm Doug Moore, and I would like to thank President Maurer and the organizing committee for this kind invitation to speak to you on behalf of GM. GM and the NFB have cooperated on this issue for almost three years. GM appreciates the commitment of the NFB on this issue, not only in the U.S., but also internationally. I want to speak to you about what GM's history has been on this subject, what we're doing now, and, most important, what we plan to do in the future. I do hope you plan to do some work today, because I have some sounds for you to hear.

With that, GM has recognized this issue of pedestrian interaction with advanced propulsion vehicles for almost twenty years, since the dawn of our first electric vehicle, the EV1, in the 1990s. Even at that time GM realized this vehicle needed new ways to alert and interact with pedestrians. Therefore the EV1 was equipped with a feature to allow the driver to communicate acoustically with pedestrians. The Chevrolet Volt, which you can now buy, has built on this experience and includes an acoustic pedestrian alert feature as the EV1 before. This feature is standard equipment on every Chevrolet Volt GM will build. [Applause] GM has built on this successful collaboration with the NFB to help contribute to the development of our second-generation pedestrian alert feature. This feature will be an automatic system, which will fulfill the expected regulatory criteria in the U.S., Japan, and Europe.

Next I'd like to talk about what GM is doing today. The first question people usually ask me is, "What should it sound like?" Well, from the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, we know it needs to meet some of the following criteria. It needs to tell people the vehicle's presence, location, direction, and operation. Since I'm an engineer, I'm going to talk to you a little bit about engineering. GM's work on this has led us to sort of learn the following things: when it says, "Discern vehicle presence," what does that mean to us? It means, I can detect the vehicle. I know something is there in an environment where I can usually hear an internal combustion vehicle today. The second is recognition. The sound I hear, I associate with a vehicle: it's not a duck; it's not a mobile phone or whatever else it might be; it's a vehicle.

The second main criterion is that I need to discern the vehicle's location and its direction. Given I've already had detection and recognition satisfied, location and direction--a lot of it--is provided naturally by the human auditory system. Why? You can turn your head to help you localize the sound, and your binaural hearing improves your ability to know where it is. Both of these things in combination really help you to figure out--where is it.

Last, from the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, is "discern vehicle operation." Operation, in my mind as an engineer, means: is the vehicle moving, is it speeding up, is it slowing down? Movement can also naturally be detected by the human auditory system as the sound moves relative to the pedestrian. Information on whether the vehicle is speeding up or slowing down can also be provided by the sound changing in frequency or modulation as a function of speed. Think of this as what you recognize now when any machine speeds up or slows down. You know this same characteristic from a motor vehicle.

So, as I said, I need you to do some work. Well, let's do that. Audience, you are now part of our research. I want you to raise your hand if you think the sound I am about to play would, in any way, shape, or form, remind you of a motor vehicle. Mr. Sound Technician, queue up sound number one, please.  [The sound played was a clip from a Three Stooges television cartoon.]

Okay, Mr. Paré, I see one hand over there, so take note of that person. [Laughter] Alright, Mr. Technician, sound number two, please.  [The sound was a musical chord that was constant in pitch but varied in amplitude at the rate one would expect to hear from an idling vehicle. Imbedded in the sound was a small rhythmic knock or tap.]

Alright, anyone think that's a motor vehicle? A few more.

Mr. Technician, sound number three.  [This sound was a chord that started with a fixed pitch and a change in amplitude like the previous sound, but the frequency of the pitch and amplitude increased in the same way a motor vehicle's sound would increase with acceleration.]

Any hands there for that one? A few more, yeah. Okay, Mr. Technician, sound number four. This is the last one; it's a little bit long.  [This sound was a chord that started with a constant pitch but with a variation in amplitude that sounded very much like a mechanical knocking sound in a traditional combustion engine. With that sound were some outside sounds, including a singing bird. Gradually the sound increased in pitch, the rhythmic change in amplitude increased, and eventually tire and air noise could be heard. The pitch and rhythmic tapping decreased to simulate a slowing vehicle.]

Okay, how many thought that was a car? [Applause] Here's the interesting thing: except for the first sound of Larry back there [one of the Three Stooges] all three of those were the same sound. What's important here is listening in context. When you hear the sound only in isolation, as if you were in some laboratory, you really don't have the full information that all of you have when you are on the street and that I experienced when I was in the O&M training in Baltimore. Therefore it's really important that we make decisions about sound with the full vehicle sound, which is what we listened to. So you get there the full realistic information because in a lot of cases there is sound you get for free. It doesn't have to be added.

Let's talk about future work. What have we at GM learned? What we've learned is that discerning the vehicle presence requirement of the 2010 Safety Act can be established by having a lower vehicle emission that says all vehicles need to make some level of sound that's really comparable to what they make today. We can also add some corresponding frequency information that says, Okay, about in this range is where we need to have this sound. We have the measurement tools available to determine this level in this frequency content. We have baseline data for existing vehicles to make sure that the sound emission and frequency content are set appropriately. We can further make sure that bystanders are not annoyed, by setting a corresponding maximum level. The last thing we want is for people to experience this and try to figure out how to cut the wires on their car.

The next part is, when discerning the vehicle operation, we can include in the sound some frequency or modulation change as a function of vehicle speed. That's what you heard in there with the sounds going up in frequency. When you hear that, you know that's what the vehicle is doing. This is the natural way that any vehicle communicates with you now. GM, in cooperation with the NFB, has found this characteristic to be extremely valuable in providing information to pedestrians on what the vehicle is doing. So, from this research GM has conducted with the help of NFB, we are confident that NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Services Administration) will be able to bring forth a regulation that enhances motor vehicle and pedestrian safety, while simultaneously respecting noise pollution and driver annoyance. [Applause] Thank you very much.

Last, I'd like to conclude by saying that the bottom line is really that we think our research has shown that a wide range of sounds can meet all the criteria and still be detected, be recognized, and provide the information you have today. And, even better, the sounds are similar enough to what you have that they will not require extensive retraining for what you know from your O&M training. GM looks forward to bringing our second-generation systems to market.

I'd like to conclude by thanking President Maurer and the organizing committee for the kind invitation to speak with you today. I wish you a good day and a good convention. Thank you. [Applause]

John Paré: Our next panelist is Kevin Ro from Toyota Motors North America. Mr. Ro joined Toyota in 1997 as the company's liaison to the federal government on issues related to vehicle safety. He is now national manager of technical and regulatory affairs for Toyota Motor North America. Mr. Ro recently demonstrated a Toyota Prius with sound for us at the National Center. Toyota was the first mainstream car that did not make enough sound, but they are now committed to having sound on future vehicles and are working closely with the National Federation of the Blind. Please give a warm welcome to Mr. Kevin Ro from Toyota Motor North America. [Applause]

Kevin RoKevin Ro: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here. I thank Dr. Maurer for inviting us and also John Paré for all his cooperation over the last few years. I don't debate anything that GM has said; in fact, you are going to find a lot of things I have to say are going to repeat what they have said.

I was here for the general session yesterday, and I was rather moved by the president's report. I wanted you to hear a perspective from someone that sat on the other side of the table from the NFB. At your organization's headquarters in Baltimore, Dr. Maurer and John Paré and the rest of the team were very gracious at our first meeting, and of all the nineteen years I've spent in D.C. working for auto makers, meeting with lots of advocacy groups, your leaders and staff actually opened their doors, invited us in, were very friendly, took the time to listen to us, and we took the time to listen to them. We had a lot of discussion about what our differences are; and, as Doug experienced, and several of us from the industry experienced, they took the time to have us experience half a day of what it's like to walk around Baltimore with a white cane and a mask over our eyes to experience a little bit of what we have to listen to, the characteristics of the traffic, and experience these issues for ourselves. That's the kind of advocacy group you have here that really tries to listen, tries to teach us, and I want you to know that they are probably the best group I've actually ever dealt with in my nineteen years. [Applause]

For today, what I was going to do was let you know what Toyota has been doing in the last few years. The Prius was one of the first global hybrid vehicles in the market. We've sold over a million worldwide now, and four or five years ago we started trying to develop a solution to the problem. For many years we spent a lot of time on pedestrian safety, working on craft worthiness so that our cars are a little more safe when they do hit pedestrians, worked on systems where the cars will brake for pedestrians; then we heard your concerns about pedestrians not being able to hear our vehicles. We started listening to different sounds; we created our own criteria, focusing on a lot of things that GM has already talked about: detectability, recognition, environmental acceptance, making sure the bystanders aren't going to reject the sound, working to ensure that customers buying our cars aren't going to reject it, or that they will go off and buy a vehicle that doesn't have the sound. We also wanted driver acceptance so that the drivers, as Doug mentioned, do not try to cut the wire.

So with all these considerations we look for key elements of sound that need to be in the system so that it's detectable, recognizable, and acceptable. One of the challenges is that a lot of our sound engineers really work to reduce noise, deal with city ordinances, and for marketability try to make certain vehicles sound a certain way. It was a new challenge for them to try to increase the sound levels in vehicles. The other challenge was that different age groups have different hearing capabilities. I actually sat through a demo once where the speaker played different sounds and had each of us raise our hands if we could hear it. I was amazed. I am forty-two years old, and I have the hearing of a fifty year old. I can't hear the sounds I'm supposed to hear. I guess that's too much rock and roll in my younger years.

Some of the challenges for us to consider were fluctuation and periodic shifts; fluctuation so that the person hearing doesn't get bored with the sound and doesn't tune it out. Also, we wanted to make sure that there are shifts so that you can recognize whether or not the vehicle is accelerating, decelerating, or going at a constant speed. It gets louder as the vehicle speeds up. We also did some focus group studies to try to understand what both blind and sighted people can detect. I want to play some of these tracks for you. If we can play track four here, please.  

That was a noise kind of like ice cream truck bells. It seemed to be the one that people could identify the easiest and say they could hear. The problem is you don't feel that some type of danger is around. You just listen to it, hear it, and indentify it, done. Actually, that's also the sound I use for my cell phone alarm to wake me up every morning. For some reason that works for me. I can hear it, and it wakes me up.

Another sound on the other end of that spectrum is track number five, please.

This is basically a mechanical sound. It might be something like the hum of a refrigerator or air conditioner. It is a sound that people said they could hear, but over time they tended to tune it out. This was a sound that drivers actually liked because they said it didn’t really bother them.

We took some of the information we got back, looked at high frequency and low frequency sounds, and created a synthesized sound that will both provide some sense of a mechanical sound, but with low and high frequency sounds that are easily heard. Our sound is designed to mimic a vehicle accelerating from zero to fifteen miles an hour. Track 6, please.

That's a synthesized sound we've come up with. We've actually had a booth here and have been playing that sound. I think about a thousand people have stopped by so far, and we've had 999 people say that it is fine. I had one person that commented he didn't like it. It's a little futuristic sounding for the Prius, and this sound is going to be on the Prius V, which is going to be introduced this fall as standard equipment. There will be no switch for the driver. Just so that you can hear the sound of the vehicle slowing down, track 7.  

We've got the sound that can tell you whether the vehicle is accelerating or decelerating, and, if it's going at a constant speed, it generates a constant hum. We'd appreciate it if you would stop by our booth. We've got copies of the CDs with the sound on them. We also have an email on there so that you can give us your comments or tell us what your thoughts are on the sound at our booth. We'd appreciate it. We're at E35. Thank you. [Applause]

John Paré observed that, as good as these sounds were in the hall, they sound even better when heard on vehicles in the environment for which they are designed. He concluded by saying that it is clear that our work with the Department of Transportation, specifically David Strickland, with GM, and with Toyota will make travel safer for blind people both in the United States and throughout the world. Our courage, our persistence, and our hard work are something we can be very proud of, and they are what makes us the force we are for changing what it means to be blind.

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