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Prius to offer optional noise to alert pedestrians

A new option--in Japan only for now--will allow Prius owners to add a small speaker system to their vehicles to help alert pedestrians.

Most consumers want a car that's quiet on the road. But Toyota's Prius is too quiet at times, and a new, optional speaker system will help give the car some of the noise it's lacking.

2010 Toyota Prius Wayne Cunningham/CNET

According to the Associated Press, Toyota will start selling a $148 speaker system in Japan on August 30 that will play sounds under the hood to help it achieve the "same noise level as a regular car engine."

For now, Toyota will only be selling the speaker system in Japan, and the purchase is voluntary. But a Toyota rep told the AP that the company is considering bringing the feature to the United States and other markets.

Pedestrians have the biggest issue with the Prius. Many people simply can't hear the car coming, due to its ability to run in a nearly silent electric mode during most of its drive time.

Toyota isn't alone among automakers looking into how to increase the sound of their hybrids to keep pedestrians safe. Nissan, for instance, plans to include a safety sound system in its electric Leaf vehicle, coming in December.

Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found (PDF) that hybrid vehicles are twice as likely to be involved in accidents with pedestrians and bicyclists than other vehicles.