Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The day of the "peep peep peep" reversing alarm is over

Every morning I wake up to the "peep peep peep" sound of reversing alarms from the construction machinery just up the street. It's not quite the dawn chorus. In fact, it's possibly the most annoying noise I hear all day. And I do hear it all day...

But, you say, that's the point of reversing alarms: they have to be annoying and intrusive or people won't notice them. But that's just the thing - they are SO ubiquitous now that people don't really notice them any more for the purpose for which they were designed, only as a vague annoyance in the distance, and a contribution to the overall noise pollution that assails our cities in this modern day. There's also some evidence that the vehicle drivers now pay LESS attention while reversing, relying instead on the alarm to warn pedestrians and other workers out of the way. This thing has come full circle.

The beep-beep reversing alarms have been around since the 1960s, when they were introduced in the USA and Japan. They spread rapidly in the 1970s, as studies showed that they did indeed cut down on the carnage on our construction sites, and soon became mandatory on work sites around most of the world.

By the 1990s, though, questions were starting to be asked about how effective they really were, and noise pollution concerns were starting to starting to be taken more seriously. By the early 2000s, a more broadband "sshhhh-sshhhh" white-noise reversing alarm was developed, which is supposedly more directional, gentler on the ear and easier for pedestrians to pinpoint. I think this is what I hear from our garbage trucks each Tuesday, and it's marginally better, but still pretty nasty.

It seems to me, though, that the development of obstacle detection radars and 360° camera monitors, such as I have in my car, are a much better solution than either of these options. Even relatively budget cars now feature these, so the cost cannot be that high, although retrofitting older vehicles is probably a tougher sell. Do we even know that new construction vehicles are being fitted with these features? Probably not: inertia is a powerful force, and laws will need to be adapted. 

In the meantime, we are stuck with that excruciating "peep peep peep". All day.

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