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Year : 2011  |  Volume : 13  |  Issue : 51  |  Page : 99--112

The challenge of localizing vehicle backup alarms: Effects of passive and electronic hearing protectors, ambient noise level, and backup alarm spectral content

Auditory Systems Laboratory, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, USA

Correspondence Address:
John G Casali
Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, 519G, Whittemore Hall, ISE Department, Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg, VA 24061
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Source of Support: Construction safety grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/1463-1741.77202

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A human factors experiment employed a hemi-anechoic sound field in which listeners were required to localize a vehicular backup alarm warning signal (both a standard and a frequency-augmented alarm) in 360-degrees azimuth in pink noise of 60 dBA and 90 dBA. Measures of localization performance included: (1) percentage correct localization, (2) percentage of right--left localization errors, (3) percentage of front-rear localization errors, and (4) localization absolute deviation in degrees from the alarm's actual location. In summary, the data demonstrated that, with some exceptions, normal hearing listeners' ability to localize the backup alarm in 360-degrees azimuth did not improve when wearing augmented hearing protectors (including dichotic sound transmission earmuffs, flat attenuation earplugs, and level-dependent earplugs) as compared to when wearing conventional passive earmuffs or earplugs of the foam or flanged types. Exceptions were that in the 90 dBA pink noise, the flat attenuation earplug yielded significantly better accuracy than the polyurethane foam earplug and both the dichotic and the custom-made diotic electronic sound transmission earmuffs. However, the flat attenuation earplug showed no benefit over the standard pre-molded earplug, the arc earplug, and the passive earmuff. Confusions of front-rear alarm directions were most significant in the 90 dBA noise condition, wherein two types of triple-flanged earplugs exhibited significantly fewer front-rear confusions than either of the electronic muffs. On all measures, the diotic sound transmission earmuff resulted in the poorest localization of any of the protectors due to the fact that its single-microphone design did not enable interaural cues to be heard. Localization was consistently more degraded in the 90 dBA pink noise as compared with the relatively quiet condition of the 60 dBA pink noise. A frequency-augmented backup alarm, which incorporated 400 Hz and 4000 Hz components to exploit the benefits of interaural phase and intensity cues respectively, slightly but significantly improved localization compared with the standard, more narrow-bandwidth backup alarm, and these results have implications for the updating of backup alarm standards.


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