Ban the Back-Up Beeper!
A city is no place for piece and quiet. There are always everywhere. This is especially true in the daytime. Whenever I have a few days off from work, I’ve found that the noises around my apartment make it damn near impossible to sleep in on weekdays. There are always lawnmowers and leafblowers and nearby trains, but of all the noises, the worst is the back-up beeper.
The basic idea behind the back-up beeper is a good one, but as they say, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. The problem isn’t the idea; it’s the implementation. These alarms were designed half a century ago with a basic idea: making as loud and obnoxious of a noise as possible. These machines were initially designed for major work sites where workers were wearing helmets. Because of this, back-up beepers were designed to emit a piercing whistle at upwards of 100 decibels. This made sense and probably saved lives.
After proving successful on the job site, the back up beeper proliferated elsewhere. In the name of safety, such devices ended up on small backhoes, garbage trucks and delivery vans. All of them had beepers loud enough for a billion-dollar construction site, regardless of their actual use. As anyone who’s ever had the misfortune of living next to a dumpster can tell you, the back-up beeper is far worse than the sound of a ton of garbage being sloshed around. Likewise, when my roof was being reshingled on my Thanksgiving Break, it wasn’t the hammering that bugged me as much as the forklifts idling in reverse.
Of course, this ignores the entire purpose of the back-up beeper. It’s there to protect construction workers. Their health and safety is worth more than my peace and quiet. This I do not dispute. But when it comes to warning workers, the back-up beeper fails. Because it’s so loud, it’s hard to locate, and because its so common, it’s easy to tune out. To someone working with heavy equipment all day, it’s just so much background noise. Perhaps it worked when it was first introduced, but nowadays the back-up beeper is an ineffective warning system.
So if the current generation of back-up beepers is ineffective, what is the solution? First off, volume. Instead of beeping as loud as possible, our work trucks should be able to measure the ambient noise and adjust the volume accordingly. That would go a way to tampering the noise on small job sites. It would also help to make the speakers more directional. This would help workers tune out the sound when it wasn’t relevant, since the noise would be aimed only at people in the reversing vehicle’s path.
Both of these changes could be implemented cheaply and easily with modern technology. There are more expensive technologies we could use though, such as sensors that detect the infrared signature of the human form and beep only when someone is in range. Not that we need military-grade technology on the job site. As I said, a volume control system combined with directional speakers would be a huge improvement.
There are certainly better ways to handle safety than beeping as loud as humanly possible. Let’s think smarter, not louder.