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It's been a long time coming – remember the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010? – but the proposed rules for the noises that electric or hybrid vehicles have to make at low speeds have been released (get them here in PDF). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced the proposed rules today in response to some requests for the noises to be generated to alert vision-impaired pedestrians.

Most current plug-in vehicles have a sound that can be triggered by the driver to alert people, but the rules would require vehicles that don't have their liquid-burning engine running to emit a sound that will "enable pedestrians to discern vehicle presence, direction, location and operation" when traveling at speeds under 18 miles per hour. NHTSA estimates that 2,800 pedestrian injuries will be avoided because of the rule, which represents "35 equivalent lives saved."

The proposed rules affect hybrid and electric vehicles, but the agency thinks that only hybrid vehicles will really be affected with actual cost and technology, since manufacturers are already putting sounds into EVs (and upcoming hydrogen fuel cell vehicles). NHTSA thus figures that, "the incremental number of light vehicles that have to add an alert sound system for costing purposes for MY 2016 is ... 671,300." The average cost per vehicle, NHTSA says, would be around $30.

Each manufacturer will be able to choose the sounds its cars make, as long as it follows the rules. That means it needs to change based on vehicle speed and the vehicle needs to make noise when idling, too. You can hear sample sounds from NHTSA here and read the official announcement below. A 60-day comment period starts today, and if everything goes smoothly, a three-year phase-in period might start in September 2015.
Show full PR text
U.S. Department of Transportation Proposes New Minimum Sound Requirements for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles
Monday, January 7, 2013

Proposal Would Allow All Pedestrians to Detect Vehicles that Do Not Make Sound

WASHINGTON – As required by the bipartisan Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 (PSEA), the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is proposing that hybrid and electric vehicles meet minimum sound standards in order to help make all pedestrians more aware of the approaching vehicles.

"Safety is our highest priority, and this proposal will help keep everyone using our nation's streets and roadways safe, whether they are motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians, and especially the blind and visually impaired," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Electric and hybrid vehicles do not rely on traditional gas or diesel-powered engines at low speeds, making them much quieter and their approach difficult to detect. The proposed standard, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 141, would fulfill Congress' mandate in the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act that hybrid and electric vehicles meet minimum sound requirements so that pedestrians are able to detect the presence, direction and location of these vehicles when they are operating at low speeds.

"Our proposal would allow manufacturers the flexibility to design different sounds for different makes and models while still providing an opportunity for pedestrians, bicyclists and the visually impaired to detect and recognize a vehicle and make a decision about whether it is safe to cross the street," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.

The sounds would need to be detectable under a wide range of street noises and other ambient background sounds when the vehicle is traveling under 18 miles per hour. At 18 miles per hour and above, vehicles make sufficient noise to allow pedestrians and bicyclists to detect them without added sound. Each automaker would have a significant range of choices about the sounds it chooses for its vehicles, but the characteristics of those sounds would need to meet certain minimum requirements. In addition, each vehicle of the same make and model would need to emit the same sound or set of sounds.

NHTSA estimates that if this proposal were implemented there would be 2,800 fewer pedestrian and pedalcyclist injuries over the life of each model year of hybrid cars, trucks and vans and low speed vehicles, as compared to vehicles without sound.

NHTSA will send the proposal to the Federal Register today. Upon publication, the public will have 60 days to submit comments on this NHTSA action.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 169 Comments
      WMB
      • 6 Months Ago
      NHTSA: Under 18 mph, pedestrians will need to make "alert sound"
      EZEE
      • 6 Months Ago
      Geez.... Let your friendly, radical right wing extremist, offer perspective. Blind people use sound as an aid to getting around. Many times if they cross the street, they listen for cars, then cross. Very few intersections (I know of one) are equipped with crosswalks that have sound indicators to assist. The blind will also judge distance by the sound level that they hear, if there is no cross walk. For those of you who do not like this, ignore the person that may die, but think of the shiny fender, and the big ol' dent it will have, plus how you will feel after killing someone. Now, this is not my opinion. Being the hell of a guy I am, I know, and am loved by, ACTUAL blind people. I have asked them. Silent cars make them very nervous. Now to you right wingers out there who do not like regulation - I am one of you! However, what do we complain about? All of these able bodied people, wanting handouts from the government! Freeloaders! Well guess what - these aren't able bodied people. Pick your battles. And I want my car to play, 'tequila' when I drive by....
        Greg
        • 6 Months Ago
        @EZEE
        It does not matter how much or what type of noise a vehicle makes, nor does it matter how blind people use their hearing to know what's happening around them--there is NO time where it is safe for a blind person to step into the street. Period. That said, can it be made safer? Sure! That's what crosswalks are for, preferably with traffic control devices. I do not feel bad in the slightest expecting/requiring a person to go a bit out of their way to cross roads at those points. But the real solution is to be able to get where you are going without having to share real estate with cars. Let's fix a real problem & make everyone safer rather than using a band-aid that may or may not make any difference.
        MK2
        • 6 Months Ago
        @EZEE
        Here's the thing, they won't sound like cars, they'll sound like whatever odd sound is played on the speaker. The blind people won't think of them as cars and so they'll get hit anyway (assuming that they would get hit in the first place).
        noevfud
        • 6 Months Ago
        @EZEE
        Better put these on all Hybrids and most modern luxury cars as they all are bout the same noise level at that speed. Stupid law. Let's create massive noise pollution for future slow speed traffic in cities rather that ask every one to pay attention.
        SloopJohnB
        • 6 Months Ago
        @EZEE
        I use my airhorn for blind people. Just in case they're deaf too.
      Eideard
      • 6 Months Ago
      Can't wait to hear what geeks will produce - hacking the sounds. I'd probably add something from Pink Floyd and George Lucas.
      Douglas
      • 6 Months Ago
      "Watch the tram car please" ala Jersey Shore boardwalks. Problem solved.
      Anderlan
      • 6 Months Ago
      "Pitch shifting with vehicle speed" is kind of funny because, you know, the Doppler effect already does this without any regulations.
        Myself
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Anderlan
        Good point but in Doppler effect, sound pitch changes relative to distance and direction of travel of the object while the observer is stationary - even if the object travels at constant speed. Technically speaking, if pitch changes as a car slows down or accelerates, to the observer it may appear as unchanging - theoretically, if the frequency change is compensated for by the Doppler effect, negating efforts of legislators :-) Thumbs up for pointing it out, anyway :-) Thumbs down to the idea.
      Tosky
      • 6 Months Ago
      If I ever have an electric car... I'm hacking mine to sound like single chamber flows....and it wont turn off at 18mph o_O
      Chris
      • 6 Months Ago
      First the government wants us to subordinate them with tax breaks, then buy them at stupid prices, and now they want them to make "noise"! Why not buy hearing aids for everyone? Does the government stupidity ever end?
      Lucky Vanos
      • 6 Months Ago
      Oh no's,how will the pedos who drive these pieces of junk sneak up on their victims.
        Ford Future
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Lucky Vanos
        Jackasses are usually posting here: http://www.foxnews.com
      johnb
      • 6 Months Ago
      Jetson's sound would be even better, good idea.
      John Hansen
      • 6 Months Ago
      And also misspelled "but" apparently. Doh.
      rickkop95
      • 6 Months Ago
      Keep mandating **** to cars. The cost keeps going up and up. No wonder the average car on the road is over ten years old. Who could afford a new one? This is just stupid!!!!
      ufgrat
      • 6 Months Ago
      Can't wait to hear a busy intersection with 5 or 10 of these systems running at once. I'm sure that will make things very easy for blind people to sort out what's going on around them.
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