Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet

For immediate release
February 28, 2023

Ted Rueter
[email protected]

Chapel Hill: Brigade Electronics and ECCO have each won a “Healthy Soundscape” award from Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet for manufacturing broadband back-up alarm systems.  These “white noise” products are much quieter and less irritating than traditional back-up beepers.

The back-up beeper (also known as a back-up alarm or a vehicle motion alarm) was invented by the Yamaguchi Electric Company in Japan in 1963. In the United States, the Morrison Knudsen engineering firm in Boise, Idaho began manufacturing back-up alarms in 1967.

Many advocates of peace and quiet find back-up alarms very annoying.  In a 2010 report, Technology for a Quieter America, the National Academy of Engineering “cited back-up beepers as one of the top six noise sources people associated with behavioral and emotional consequences.”

Science and medical writer David C. Holzman notes that “for all their ubiquity, back-up beepers are poorly designed for their job, and some of their most annoying attributes are part of that poor design.” A speech pathology professor at the University of Ottawa states that back-up beepers “are loud enough to damage hearing and can be heard blocks from the danger zone.” Holzman concludes that “their sound is so commonplace that their warning can lose its authority through the cry-wolf phenomenon.”

There is also little evidence that loud, aggravating back-up beepers actually reduce accidents and save lives. David C. Holzman reports that “an investigation by the federal Occupational and Safety Administration (OSHA) found that an original equipment manufacturer back-up alarm failed to prevent two-thirds of backover accidents analyzed.” Similarly, “in a vote of no-confidence in back-up beepers, Washington State established a requirement for a spotter at all times–someone who alerts the driver if a pedestrian steps behind the machinery.”

Unfortunately, OSHA regulation 29 CFR Part 1926.601(b)(4) requires “a reversal signal alarm audible above surrounding noise level,” but only when the motor vehicle has “an obstructed view to the read.”  The decision as to the how much the noise level will be above ambient levels remains with the employer.

construction industry publication notes that “in the 1990s, innovators developed a back-up device that emitted a sound cadence similar  to a conventional alarm, but that was broadcast as a white-noise, whooshing sound. Nearby workers or pedestrians can easily hear the quieter sound when in the backing vehicle’s path.”

This article also reports that “an additional benefit of the white noise warning device is its effect on the environment.  White noise is masked by community noise, so it is much less annoying to the public than beeping back-up alarms, reducing noise pollution.”

This video and this video demonstrate the white noise broadband back-up technology.

ECCO manufactures the variable loudness “Smart Alarm,” which retails for $83.01.

Ted Rueter, director of Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet, “would like to encourage all of our supporters to contact OSHA, asking them to eliminate or relax their requirement for back-up beepers. The form offers numerous options for filing a complaint: online, mail, e-mail, telephone, or an in-person visit.”

Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet, is a national citizens’ organization devoted to noise reduction.  Past winners of the Healthy Soundscape aware include “The Quietest Year” noise documentaryRepresentative Don Beyer; and Knoxville, Tennessee.