Although the relative silence of hybrid vehicles has made them the choice of TV gangsters for drive-by shootings, the rest of the world is less than enamored with the difficulty involved in hearing one coming - especially when trying to cross the street. This phenomenon has inspired companies like Lotus to engineer a system that re-creates the sound of a normal car, and now the issue of whether such devices should become mandatory for hybrid vehicles is being discussed in Japan.

The problem lies in the design of the electric motors found in hybrid vehicles as they run almost silently when the car is driving on electric power alone. This has ruffled a few feathers with the vision-impaired, especially now that hybrid vehicles are the top sellers in Japan.

"We have received opinions from automobile users and vision-impaired people that they feel hybrid vehicles are dangerous," a transport ministry official explained to the Associated Press. "Blind people depend on sounds when they walk, but there are no engine sounds from hybrid vehicles when running at low speed" and on the electric motor, he said.

The Japanese government has now established a panel consisting of scholars, vision-impaired groups, consumers, police and the automobile industry to discuss the matter. One of the possible solutions the panel has come up with is to introduce a sound-making function in the hybrid vehicles.

Lotus has already developed such a feature called Safe & Sound, which uses a combination of speakers, microphones and advanced processing to deliver a quiet cabin ride while also ensuring the people outside the car can hear it coming by simulating a brawnier combustion engine's sound. The technology is already available to automakers but so far no hybrid vehicles have featured it.