By on January 3, 2011

Longtime TTAC commenter/contributor David Holzman has a piece in Environmental Health Perspectives entitled Vehicle Motion Alarms: Necessity, Noise Pollution, or Both? tackling the problems and effectiveness issues associated with audible vehicle warnings. He writes

For all their ubiquity, backup beepers are poorly designed for their job, and some of their most annoying attributes are part of that poor design, says Chantal Laroche, a professor in the Audiology/Speech Language Pathology Department at the University of Ottawa, Canada, who has devoted much of her career to investigating the practical shortcomings of alarm sounds. Their single tones, with a typical volume of 97–112 decibels (dB) at the source, are loud enough to damage hearing and can be heard blocks from the danger zone, says Thalheimer. Their sound is so commonplace that their warning can lose its authority through the cry-wolf phenomenon. For reasons having to do with the physics of sound, they also are notoriously hard to localize, further undermining their utility, says Laroche.

Read the whole thing.

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14 Comments on “The Truth About Backup Beepers...”

  • avatar

    As was mentioned in the comments in the last thread about backup beepers, the Prius’s backup beeper is only audible inside the car, and can be disabled.

    • 0 avatar

      What’s the logic in having a backup beeper that can only be heard inside the car?

    • 0 avatar

      I think some lawyers somewhere must have gotten worried about folks shifting into reverse accidentally and not noticing, so the beeper was added.   It can be turned off, but it’s not particularly annoying to me.  Basically the same as a seat belt reminder beeping etc.

  • avatar

    Perhaps an onboard source of “stench material” squirted out the vehicle’s rear to warn those behind the backing-up vehicle to vacate the area.
    Especially handy when old fogies or females (with elderly females the most danger who seem willing to back without stopping even if they see an impediment… based upon personal experiences) are driving a vehicle… no matter what direction they are driving (a generality based upon MY reality and experiences with exceptions).
    Install an easily refillable container with some sort of mechanism (many types available) to propel the noxious stench.
    One obvious hurdle would be excess wind to prevent the stench from entering the backed-into area.
    Maybe droplets expelled to overcome winds of X speed would ensure effectiveness up to X gale-force wind and allow functionality in X percent of instances.
    One positive among the negatives would be usefulness among the deaf portion of the public.
    Other mechanical, electrical, electro-mechanical, pneumatic, etc. devices could be utilized to offer warnings to those within or entering the “danger zone” but whatever method used requires the avoidance of requiring any active participation by the parties involved; be it the driver, the pedestrian or any inanimate object (passing vehicle, etc) within striking distance of the reversing vehicle.
    On a side note: who amongst us has, at a stop light, ever shifted into reverse just to activate the back-up lights and remained that way during the red light stopping period just to, perhaps, create worry/concern/puzzlement/whatever in the mind or mindlets in the mathematically likely blithering idiots behind thee?
    C’mon. Admit it. You did it at least once…. right?
    Of course you kept thine wits about thee and ensured before the red turned to green you shifted from reverse to make-the-vehicle-move-forward-mode, right?
    If you committed the above juvenile-but-fun stunt but failed to exit the reverse mode and accelerated when red became green… please clarify the event.

  • avatar

    Why not make the backup beeper sexy! Make them play recorded audio of a wolf-whistle, at moderate, non-hearing damage levels. Spaced for maximum attention getting timing. For example ;P

  • avatar

    My roommate and I live across the street from a school parking lot with a very narrow opening, requiring any large truck to to a several-point turn to enter and exit the lot (depending on their level of skill; some are pretty damn good at it!)

    Our neighborhood in Philadelphia has clear noise ordinances stating that dumpster trucks are not allowed to operate before 7:00 AM. Yet as many as three mornings a week the huge, loud trucks blatantly broke the law, subjecting our neighbors and us to extremely loud beeping and air brake bleeding for as long as 20 minutes, ruining our sleep patterns.

    Only by excessively calling the proper complaint hot-line every time an offending truck comes before the legal time have we seemed (for now, knock on wood) to make any impact. I’ve always grown up in cities with all the requisite loud noises, but this is particularly grating.

    On the few occasions the trucks came too early but somehow switched off their backup-beepers (or maybe they were malfunctioning), however, it was easier to sleep through their visits. The brake bleeding is annoying, but the beeping is absolutely intolerable.

    If it were legal, fine, we’d deal with it. But it isn’t…and we won’t.

  • avatar

    It is because the noises are some common that they are a problem.  If you think about it, how many people look at car alarms now.  A quieter noise may not work for the deaf.  Not an easy problem to find a good solution to.

  • avatar

    I was recently on a construction site and some of the vehicles were using the ‘broad spectrum’ audible alarms (mentioned near the end of the article), and they were much more attention-getting than the usual ‘beep-beep-beep’ sounds.  Some of that is attributable to them being different, but they were definitely more localized, and didn’t carry as far.  Hearing beeps from 1/4 mile away doesn’t help anyone, especially when they’re indistinguishable from the ones 25 feet away.

  • avatar

    I used to work at a place that had a fleet of Chrysler minivans, and a few of them had a backup warning device that said, in a very loud and female voice, “WARNING!  THIS VEHICLE IS BACKING UP…….WARNING!  THIS VEHICLE IS BACKING UP”  over and over as long as it was in reverse.
    Very embarrassing for the driver, but it got people’s attention.

    • 0 avatar

      in a very loud and female voice, “WARNING!  THIS VEHICLE IS BACKING UP…….WARNING!  THIS VEHICLE IS BACKING UP”
      English only?? Uh oh! Better be a multilingual version! This approach would be a target for personal injury attorneys representing the non-English speaking community.

  • avatar

    I currently work at a place that is a construction zone, crowded with scissor lifts, forklifts, trucks, cranes, etc. Every damn one of them beeps the same damn beep, and given that at any particular moment several of them are in motion the beeping pretty much never stops. Ever.
    When “wolf” is cried over and over again, the villagers quit paying attention. So much for safety eh?

    • 0 avatar

      That would drive me nuts in short order. To add insult to injury, it seems that the majority of this equipment is meant to be USED primarily in reverse, especially fork lifts, so the effect is more like a Simpson’s episode…

      Marge : HOMER, TURN IT OFF!
      Homer: IT CAN’T BE TURNED OFF!

  • avatar

    I always look when I hear the beep. I installed one on my kitchen sink. Whenever I hear it, I know that the sink is backing up.

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