Car Makers Ask For Delay In EV Noise Rules


electric car noises

Back in 2010, Congress directed the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHSTA) to create rules requiring noise generating devices on EVs, PHEVs, and hybrids while operating on electric power. Studies conducted at the time had suggested that such cars were so quiet that they represent a danger to pedestrians, especially the blind. In fact, the National Federation For The Blind was one of the primary groups urging Congress to act. Final rules regulating EV noises were supposed to be issued in January, 2014 but have been delayed several times, already, pushing back the appearance of the proposed noise-making devices until 2016.

Now, however, several automakers are claiming that they simply cannot comply with that deadline because NHTSA dropped the ball by missing the deadline for finalizing the rules. They also complain the devices will cost many times more than the $35 per car the government estimates.

According to The Detroit News, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automaker have jointly urged the NHTSA to postpone full compliance until September 1, 2018, partly because the final rules have yet to be published but also because:

It is apparent that there remains a great deal of uncertainty as to the content of the final requirements. (The proposed rules of January 2013) would result in alert sounds that are louder than necessary, create driver and occupant annoyance and cost more than necessary.

Until the NHTSA rules regarding EV noise are finalized, manufacturers can’t know whether all EVs, PHEVs, and hybrids must have the same sound, or even whether such devices will be required to operate automatically, as in the Nissan LEAF, or under driver control, as they are in the current Chevy Volt.

I fully understand why pedestrians should need some help in identifying when a car operating solely on electric power is in the area. I bought a Prius in 2007 and was driving slowly on a side street when a man suddenly stepped off a curb and crossed right in front of me. I blew my horn, which startled him. We exchanged pleasantries accompanied by a few well known hand gestures. Then he yelled at me “They ought to make you tie a cow bell on that thing!” He was neither blind, nor blind drunk. He was simply someone caught off guard by my silent approach – so, yeah. I get it. Still, I find the government’s approach to be wrong headed.

Way back at the beginning of the automobile era, many cities passed laws requiring a person to walk in front of a car ringing a bell to warn law-abiding citizens that a vehicle was approaching. It was a dumb idea then, and it’s an even dumber idea now, after generations of “look both ways”.

The American government, it appears, is proposing a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem. Instead of urban vehicles mooing, chiming and chirping their way down city streets, why not develop a smart phone app that notifies pedestrians when an EV, PHEV or hybrid car is in the area? If it works for Uber, it should work for anyone, including blind and deaf pedestrians, right? Am I wrong? Let me know what you think in the comments section, below.


Source: Green Car Reports.

About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.
  • J_JamesM

    Spaceship noises. That is all.

    • Broooooooobreiiiiiiii VWOOOMMM!!!!

  • pnwfemale

    From my observations in the real world, most people are not paying attention to what is going on around them. Right now, I drive a hybrid; but, when I was driving a non-hybrid, people still were not paying attention. Drivers need to be alert to pedestrians no matter what kind of vehicle they drive. Those pedestrians who are not visually impaired need to make sure they look both ways before crossing the street. I do not believe that cars that make noise are going to help that much.

    One other thing that cities can implement are those talking crosswalk signal buttons. When our small city started upgrading its cross walk signals, it installed ones that talk. The pleasant male voice lets pedestrians now when it is safe to walk across the street and even counts down to the next red light. I don’t know anybody who is visually impaired to know how effective it is; but, I think it’s a good thing.

  • Eletruk

    I think if they pass a law requiring a minimum noise level, it should apply to ALL vehicles. Many modern ICE vehicles are also very quite and you can’t hear them coming. But then a minimum noise maker still hasn’t been proven to be effective, any more than a silent car is any more likely to injure a pedestrian than a noisy car (note the words “suggested” in the study). While we are at it, all bicycles must have a minimum noise requirement, because they are far more likely to be involved in a accident seeing as how they more often than not actually occupy the same space as pedestrians. Why no noise law for bicycles?
    How about instead we actually study the problem FIRST? See if anything makes any difference?

  • Looking both ways is absolutely necessary with or without noise. I have been caught by gas-powered cars already.

    Although, it may be necessary for the government to require some form of warning, as people don’t always make the best decisions.

    Apart from that, I would recommend walking further up the road (away from corners), as crossing at corners can be risky.

    • Crossing at … what!? It’s illegal to cross anywhere *BUT* the corners in the US.

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  • GCO

    Agreed that the burden is onto the producers of those lethal devices to take reasonable steps to mitigate the risks, not every potential victim.
    The phone app idea is clearly a non-starter. Kids about to cross the parking lot probably won’t have one; even if they do, they aren’t going to check it, and if by chance they actually do pay attention to buzzing in their pocket, looking at the device instead of the road at that moment would only make the situation more dangerous.

    In volume, a tiny speaker in/near the front bumper shouldn’t cost more than 20$, dramatically less than e.g. the backup cameras which have (or are about to) become mandatory for safety reasons, so unless further studies show that a minimum sound level really offers no benefit, putting it in should be a no-brainer.

    Btw, those typically only activate below ~25km/h (~15mph), as tire noise becomes sufficient beyond that.

    • Patrick Linsley

      Good points. I didn’t know that the Leaf already has a warning sound system. That means the rest of the automakers have no excuse for not having one as it’s pretty obvious it hasn’t hurt their sales.