Toyota is out to make some noise. Big T announced last week that it was now possible for Japanese drivers to install a speaker system under the hood of its third-generation Prius hybrids. The device, according to Toyota spokespeople, will make an electronic humming sound similar to the noises flying cars made on the cartoon show The Jetsons. Rumour has it that all new Prius hybrids will now also come with bumper stickers that read "My Other Car is a Car."
But hold on!
People hate traffic noise. Why would Toyota neutralize one of the Prius's great selling points - its silence - a quality so renowned that was immortalized in an episode of The Office ("The Prius is silent if he keeps it under 5 mph. He deserves the win.").
How much does that new car cost?
Well, it seems there's a reason cars come equipped with horns and chopper motorcycles make all that chopping noise. Sound helps alert us humans. Annoying sounds keep us safe.
The Prius, it turns out, was too quiet, especially at low speeds (a Prius can travel at high speeds?) and pedestrians had trouble hearing the eco-friendly ride approaching. This was causing Prius-person encounters. In fact, a study by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that, compared to conventional cars, hybrids travelling at low speeds were twice as likely to be involved in pedestrian crashes. The blind and aged were particularly at risk. Toyota hopes the new noise maker will cut down the incidence of Prius/pedestrian collisions.
It's a noble effort by Toyota, though it does not take into account the possibility that Prius drivers who hit pedestrians at low speeds might simply be trying to help the environment by eliminating a few humans (who by their very natures pollute).
The big question is: Why a humming noise? Why not get creative? Why not alert pedestrians and other travellers with a nice sound? Imagine, you're walking along and suddenly from behind you hear Glenn Gould playing Bach's Goldberg Variations? Instantly, you'd know that you have only three or four minutes to get out of the way before that Prius comes within three or four minutes of hitting you.
We have personalized telephone rings; why not have personalized Prius speaker systems? Say you're pissed off about the environment and you want to let everyone know about it, slap on World Party's Ship of Fools and take your eco-wheels for an indignant rocking ride. Are you a Luddite Prius driver? Have Maxine Nightingale's 1970s classic Right Back Where We Started From playing as you cruise.
Look for other companies such as General Motors and Nissan to introduce similar devices in their hybrid cars. No specifics have been announced. But in an effort to speed things along, Road Sage presents a few other noise-making automobiles manufacturers should consider.
Ford Fusion Facebook BFF: When a pedestrian approaches the Ford Fusion's front end, the car's BFF system pipes up telling her, "I'm friending you. I'm so glad we finally caught up with each other." Once the pedestrian has passed by and is near the car's rear end, the Fusion "posts" in a stage whisper, "You have fat ankles and I'm having an affair with your husband."
The Talking Zip Zero: While it's true that Zip cars already come equipped with warning systems telling other motorists and pedestrians that they are being operated by dangerous dilettantes - I'm referring to the word "Zip" on the side - the Zip Zero will clear up any debate. When a Zip Zero automobile exceeds 30 km/h, the speaker system will begin shrieking "Danger! Danger! Anxious yet energetic sometime driver coming your way! Take shelter!"
Chevy Malibu Hybrid Console: America automobile manufacturers have never been big on heeding warnings. The Chevy Malibu Console Hybrid follows this noble tradition. While it won't prevent accidents (or financial crisis) it will instantly go into damage control. Once the Malibu Hybrid has struck another car, for instance, its speaker system will announce, "You have been hit by a Chevy Malibu Hybrid. We extend our apologies. However, please take some solace in the fact that less fossil fuel was consumed in the process of your being struck."
Speaking of hybrid cars, Road Sage would like to bestow its first Gold Medal Prix d'Honneur Award to Haroon Zafaryab of West London, England - who, after his Prius was "clamped" by parking officials locked himself in his automobile.
According to the Daily Telegraph, a tense 30-hour standoff followed in which "clampers" slapped his car with approximately 40 fines totalling around $8,000 (Canadian). Local residents cheered Zafaryab, bringing him snacks and refreshments. Finally, he agreed to pay a $50 fine and the restraints were removed.
"I stuck it out and got justice," he said. "My standoff sends out the message that local people, the elderly, people who don't know the law, cannot be bullied and scared into parting with their hard-earned cash."
Haroon Zafaryab, we who are about to park salute you.