Safe-D: Safety through Disruption

A Data Driven Approach to the Development and Evaluation of Acoustic Electric Vehicle Alerting Systems for Vision Impaired Pedestrians


The steady increase of electric vehicles (EVs) has led to safety concerns for vulnerable populations. EVs produce considerably less noise compared to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, especially at low speeds. Although pedestrians across all demographics are at risk, visually impaired pedestrians face significantly greater disadvantages in environments where ambient noise levels are high in relation to EV noise output. A major reason for this is because these pedestrians depend on auditory cues when making life-threatening decisions, such as crossing complex intersections or walking through city streets. In response to this safety concern, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has developed regulations (FMVSS-141) that require EVs to emit sounds that meet specific frequency content and overall sound pressure levels. Previous work by the PIs has shown research gaps in the current implementations of EV warning sounds that may compromise safety for pedestrians, particularly the vision impaired. These gaps include a lack of uniform sound radiation around the vehicle, creating “dead” zones where little sound may reach pedestrians. Additionally, there is a lack of understanding of signal characteristics that have the most significant effect on vehicle detectability by vision impaired and/or potentially distracted pedestrians. Based on previously collected data and new experiments, this project continues the development of EV acoustics-based safety measures for vision-impaired pedestrians. The project will establish data-driven safety performance measures, such as the probability of vehicle detection with respect to scientifically oriented additive sounds that meet existing standards, as well as techniques for uniform sound transmission around the vehicle.

Project Highlights

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Final Report

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EWD & T2 Products

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Research Investigators (PI*)

Mike Roan (VTTI/VT)*
Luke Neurauter (VTTI/VT)
Marty Miller (VTTI/VT)
Doug Moore (GM)

Project Information

Start Date: 2020-11-01
End Date: 2023-02-01
Status: Active
Grant Number: 69A3551747115
Total Funding: $550,215
Source Organization: Safe-D National UTC
Project Number: 05-086

Safe-D Theme Areas

Automated Vehicles
Connected Vehicles

Safe-D Application Areas

Vulnerable Users
Infrastructure Technology
Performance Measures
Planning for Safety
Vehicle Technology

More Information

UTC Project Information Form

Sponsor Organization

Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology
University Transportation Centers Program
Department of Transportation
Washington, DC 20590 United States

Performing Organization

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Virginia Tech Transportation Institute
3500 Transportation Research Plaza
Blacksburg, Virginia 24061