sirens, Prius!

Tom Vanderbilt, whose blog “How We Drive” originated as essentially a promotional device for his book Traffic (which, for some reason, I still haven’t bought) but has come to be a fascinating compendium of traffic- and driving-related…blogginess, wrote the other day about the alleged problem that the Prius is so quiet in parking lots and such that people don’t hear it coming. First, I wonder whether there’s any actual data on whether anyone’s actually been injured from not noticing a Prius, when it’d be likely they’d have noticed another vehicle, or whether this is one of those ideas that comes about because someone’s startled by an approaching Prius, and then rants (in the usual dumb macho way of meathead americanus) about them thar Priuses are quiet…too quiet, like a sneaky terrorist car or something.

Anyway, Vanderbilt quotes Lawrence Rosenblum, who suggests that if the Prius is made artificially noisier, the last thing it should do is have some annoying beep or honk, etc. Instead, it should merely add or enhance actual car noise – the route of the digital camera, most of whose models feature, by default, an artificial shutter-click sound to let you know that you have, indeed, taken a picture.

On the other hand, as several of Vanderbilt’s commenters notice, should we really default the paying of attention from the driver (and pedestrians) onto a mechanical device? Plus which if the problem is that the Prius isn’t louder than the ambient environment, making the car louder also makes the environment louder. And I’m suddenly wondering whether the morons who believe “loud pipes save lives” is more than just an advertising slogan but an expression of some sort of truth are behind this effort.

And of course, if a Prius driver isn’t paying attention, at least it’s only a Prius: the other night, driving on a small urban street, looking for a parking space, I spotted one and began to turn into it. Despite my signal being on, and despite it being a commercial district with almost exclusively street parking, this shocking move to pull into a parking space startled the oversized pickup truck driver behind me (Janet, record this date – and actually, I’m not sure whether the driver was oversized, but the pickup definitely was) into blasting his horn at me. He then roared by far faster than the narrow street, and the multitude of pedestrians and crosswalks, should have allowed.

Whether my car (a Mini Cooper) or his truck had been louder would have made no difference, so long as drivers aren’t paying attention or going too fast.

(Note: I apologize for the subject line, both for its hideous pun and appalling insensitivity to stereotypical notions of implied foreign accents – but I simply find myself powerless sometimes in the face of puns.)

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