Feds Seek to End Sound of Silence With Hybrids, EVs


  • Pedestrian Picture

    Pedestrian Picture

    Federal safety regulators are proposing rules for automakers to add sound to hybrids and electric vehicles. | January 08, 2013

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Just the Facts:
  • Federal safety regulators want hybrids and electric vehicles to emit sound to protect pedestrians, bicyclists and the visually impaired, according to proposed rules issued on Monday.
  • NHTSA said it expects noise-making speaker systems will add about $30 in components to the cost of a car or light truck.
  • Vehicles such as the electric Nissan Leaf already have a system that plays a sound to warn pedestrians.

WASHINGTON — Federal safety regulators want hybrids and electric vehicles to emit sound to protect pedestrians, bicyclists and the visually impaired, according to proposed rules issued on Monday.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it expects noise-making speaker systems will add about $30 in components to the cost of a car or light truck. The added weight of the components may also increase fuel costs by about $5 over the life of a vehicle, according to the notice of proposed rulemaking.

"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 David Strickland, NHTSA administrator, in a statement.

Vehicles such as the electric Nissan Leaf already have a system that plays a sound to warn pedestrians.

"Nissan is reviewing NHTSA's proposal and always has offered Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians on its Leaf electric vehicle," Nissan said in a statement on Monday. "When developing Leaf, Nissan conducted significant human-machine interface research to determine optimal sound for the car."

Quieter vehicles, such as EVs and hybrids, can reduce pedestrians' ability to assess the state of nearby traffic and, as a result, can have an impact on pedestrian safety, NHTSA said.

"EVs and (hybrids) may pose a safety problem for pedestrians, in particular pedestrians who are blind or visually impaired and who therefore rely on auditory cues from vehicles to navigate," it noted.

NHTSA says adding noise at speeds below 18 mph would prevent about 2,800 injuries over the life of each model year of the vehicles.

A final rule could go into effect by January 4, 2014.

Edmunds says: Automakers have started adding speakers to hybrids and EVs in advance of any final rule — a fairly inexpensive way to cut injuries and save lives.

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