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.
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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
      Mercer
      • 1 Year Ago
      I bet there will be some sort of "ring tone apps" for stupid electric/ hybrid cars soon.
      JakeY
      • 1 Year Ago
      I don't see how 2800 injuries is "equivalent" to 35 equivalent lives saved. There have been no deaths from lack of noise from hybrids/EVs (if there was, there would definitely be headlines and it'll probably be in this press release). And how much was the study (if there was one) controlled for the fact hybrids/EVs are more prevalent in urban/low speed areas (because that's where they save the most gas). And the UK study found that there is no significant different in noise between an EV and an ICE car at 5mph and 12mph+. I wonder if the US even did similar tests (article below suggests they didn't before they passed the law). http://www.zemotoring.com/news/2011/07/no-artificial-noise-makers-for-evs-in-the-uk And the question I have still seen not answered is why it doesn't apply to quiet luxury cars too. If noise have to be added, it should apply to those too (there's likely much more of these cars than hybrids or EVs).
      John Hansen
      • 1 Year Ago
      Pretty dumb law, singling out EVs for some reason. I suspect that EVs are just an easier target at this point and that once they pass this law they will roll it out to all vehicles that are quieter than a certain threshold. If this was a real problem, they would apply it to all quiet vehicles in the first place. Or maybe our government is really just that dumb. Not a lot of good choices here.
        Rob J
        • 1 Day Ago
        @John Hansen
        It's not singling out EV's at all. The Prius (and other hybrids) can travel MUCH faster than 18mph on electricity alone. And there are hundreds of thousands of Prii on the road. But yes, there are some near silent ICE vehicles already.
      BlackDynamiteOnline
      • 1 Year Ago
      Sound like a fart BD
      waetherman
      • 1 Year Ago
      It's probably not the visually impaired who would benefit most, but the digitally distracted. I can't tell you how many times I've seen some asshat texting on his cell phone wander in to traffic, cross the street against the signal or otherwise put himself in harm's way. I can only imagine when there are lots of electric cars on the road there will be a lot more injuries in cities as a result.
      John Hansen
      • 1 Day Ago
      And also misspelled "but" apparently. Doh.
      Eideard
      • 1 Day Ago
      Can't wait to hear what geeks will produce - hacking the sounds. I'd probably add something from Pink Floyd and George Lucas.
      WMB
      • 1 Day Ago
      NHTSA: Under 18 mph, pedestrians will need to make "alert sound"
      • 1 Day Ago
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_flag_traffic_laws
      EZEE
      • 1 Day 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
        • 1 Day 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
        • 1 Day 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
        • 1 Day 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
        • 1 Day Ago
        @EZEE
        I use my airhorn for blind people. Just in case they're deaf too.
      • 1 Day Ago
      i hope they have a really loud cammed out V8 sound effect. that would be hilarious to hear coming from a prius.
      Chris
      • 1 Day 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?
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