The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration this week finalized a rule requiring all hybrid and electric car makes to equip their cars with noise making devices prior to September 1, 2019. The rule requires every hybrid and electric car to make noise when traveling forward or backward at speeds below 19 mph. The sound alert isn’t required at higher speeds because other factors, such as tire and wind noise, provide adequate warning, NHTSA says. Half of all hybrids and electrics must be equipped with sound devices by one year prior to to 9/1/2019.
“We all depend on our senses to alert us to possible danger,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “With more, quieter hybrid and electrical cars on the road, the ability for all pedestrians to hear as well as see the cars becomes an important factor of reducing the risk of possible crashes and improving safety.”
The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 was mandated and signed into law in 2011. It required the federal government to establish a standard for sound making devices on so-called quiet cars. Since the law was passed, the automakers have strongly opposed its implementation, arguing about the type and volume of noise required. Some critics suggest that our cities will now sound like a construction site filled with thousands of backhoes honking and beeping.
One of the benefits of the electric car revolution was supposed to be a decrease in the ambient noise that is prevalent in all cities. But with every car emitting its own electronic sounds, a new peace and quiet in urban neighborhoods may be replaced by a 24 hour a day version of the Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s 1853 opera, Il Trovatore.
No one can argue that quiet cars don’t pose a danger to pedestrians. They do. I remember when I got my Toyota Prius back in 2007. I was gliding along a back street looking for a house number on electric power alone. I wasn’t paying particular attention and neither was the pedestrian who crossed in front of me while using his cell phone. We surprised each other and he gave me a universally recognized hand gesture while shouting, “They ought to make you put a bell on that thing!”
Clearly, citizens with a visual impairment are at special risk from electric cars and I don’t want to sound unsympathetic to blind people. I am astonished how so many deal with their disability with skill, patience, and a positive spirit. But I have to agree with those who suggest that in a modern, connected world, there is a better way to protect those most at risk without subjecting the rest of us to a cacophony of randomly generated tweets, whirs, whistles, and bells.
Any smartphone or connected car can communicate with any other connected device. Couldn’t this all be done with an app? It would cost less to equip all citizens with vision limitations with such a connected device that it will cost to equip every car on the road with a noisemaker.
Plus, too, and also, the auto makers are free to choose their own sounds so long as they are loud enough to meet the regulation. So there will be no uniformity to the noises cars make in the future. That could lead to confusion among those the government seeks to protect.
Technology provides such a simple solution to this issue. It’s like the government has chosen a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem. It’s no wonder that some people rail about the right way, the wrong way, and the government way. This solution is no solution. It is simply a way to mollify one group with a policy that satisfies no one.