Japan may mandate louder hybrid cars

Japan's near-silent hybrid cars have been called dangerous by the vision-impaired and some users, prompting a government review on whether to add a noise-making device, an official said.

Japan's near-silent hybrid cars have been called dangerous by the vision-impaired and some users, prompting a government review on whether to add a noise-making device, an official said.

Even with louder hybrids, we'd still recommend against walking down the middle of the street.(Seeing-eye dog image by Leonardo Tote, royalty free)

The petrol-electric vehicles, which in recent months have become the country's top-selling cars, hum along almost soundlessly when they are running on battery power alone.

"We have received opinions from automobile users and vision-impaired people that they feel hybrid vehicles are dangerous," a transport ministry official said on Friday. "Blind people depend on sounds when they walk, but there are no engine sounds from hybrid vehicles when running at low speed and on the electric motor [only]."

The ministry has launched a panel of scholars, vision-impaired groups, consumers, police and the automobile industry to discuss the matter. The panel is expected to draw up a report by the end of the year. Its proposal will be discussed at the ministry's committee on automobile safety before it could be drafted into legislation.

Toyota launched the world's most popular hybrid, the Prius, in 1997. A new generation of the Prius rolled out in Japan in late May and has been a huge hit, drawing orders for 200,000 units, according to Toyota. It recently became the best-selling car in Japan's domestic market, toppling another hybrid, Honda's even more affordable Insight hybrid.

If Japan does mandate noise-making machines for hybrids, we wonder whether they'd sound anything like the Brabus Smart ED, which can imitate the USS Enterprise.

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