Prius gets sound option to protect pedestrians

The 12,600 yen (USD 148) speaker system that goes under the hood of the third-generation Prius sets off a whirring sound designed to be about the same noise level as a regular car engine so that it isn't annoying, Toyota Motor Corp said on Tuesday.

It goes on sale August 30 in Japan, and owners pay extra for installation charges. Its use is voluntary.

Overseas sales plans are still undecided, but Toyota is studying regulations and considering offering it in the US and other markets, said spokeswoman Monika Saito.

The gasoline-electric hybrid gets good mileage but is also quiet because it runs as an electric car much of the time. That advantage has drawn complaints that pedestrians, the blind in particular, are at greater risk of being hit by the car, especially at low speeds.

The US government's auto safety agency found in a research report last year that hybrids are twice as likely to be involved in pedestrian crashes at low speeds compared with cars with conventional engines.

Toyota, which also makes the Camry sedan and Lexus luxury models, said it plans versions of the device for other hybrid models, plug-ins, electric vehicles and fuel-cell vehicles.

Pedestrian deaths compared to overall traffic fatalities are higher in Japan than in the US and many other nations because of Japan's narrow and crisscrossing crowded streets. Japan is also a rapidly ageing society, making audible cars critical.

Toyota said the device is based on guidelines addressing the dangers of silent cars, including hybrids, issued in January by the Japanese government.

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