Noise Makers for Electric Cars: Won’t Be Law in the U.S. Until 2018

Regardless of your opinion on them, rules mandating that all plug-in and hybrid cars make some form of artificial noise to alert pedestrians of their presence have long been promised by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) following a large amount of lobbying by the National Federation for the Blind.

In fact, it was as far back as 2011 that a law — the Pedestrian Safety Act — was put onto the books to ensure that automakers include noise makers on all hybrid and plug-in vehicles. But despite being on the books for four years, there still isn’t an agreed implementation detailing how automakers must comply with the law.

The 2015 VW e-Golf includes noise fakery. Come 2018, all U.S.-market electric and hybrid cars will need it.

The 2015 VW e-Golf includes noise fakery. Come 2018, all U.S.-market electric and hybrid cars will need it.

Hammering out that implementation has been the job of NHTSA since the law was passed, but as Wards Auto detailed last week, despite originally planning to bring guidelines into force far sooner, NHTSA has now set a deadline of September 2018 for all automakers to comply.

This delay might have pleased automakers who have been lobbying for an extension for the compliance and are reticent to add noise-makers to their plug-in and hybrid vehicles, but it hasn’t pleased lobbyists at the National Federation of the Blind.

“We’re very disappointed that the PESA’s final rule hasn’t been released.” said John Pare, National Federation of the Blind’s executive director for advocacy. “The number of silent cars continues to increase, only making the need for the rule that much more important to pedestrians.”

Yet while lobbyists for pedestrians — both sighted and visually impaired — argue that noisemakers would dramatically improve pedestrian safety, a large number of studies and automotive insiders remain to be convinced.

Hybrid cars -- and we presume hydrogen fuel cell cars -- will also need to make noise from September 2018.

Hybrid cars — and we presume hydrogen fuel cell cars — will also need to make noise from September 2018.

At speeds above 15 mph or so, the noise of the tires against the road is considered loud enough by many to warn pedestrians of an electric car’s presence, while others argue that modern gasoline-engined vehicles — especially premium-market models — are as equally as quiet at slow speeds as an electric vehicle.

Here at Transport Evolved we conducted a very unscientific test a year or so in a quiet residential neighbourhood on a Sunday morning with a visually-impaired volunteer and one of our staff 2011 Nissan LEAFs. At 10 mph, the volunteer was unable to differentiate the presence of our LEAF from any other car, and noted she could tell no difference from our passing by with both noise-alert system activated and with it deactivated.

In a louder environment such as a busy city centre, she confided detecting any car — regardless of the noise — was difficult. In order to detect the presence of a car from the background noise, she said it would need to be far louder than any noise maker she had heard.

Regardless of the need or not of noisemakers — and we fear this argument will go on for a long time after the standards come into force — NHTSA’s latest version of the requirements dictate that all new hybrid and electric cars, light trucks and vans, medium and heavy duty trucks, busses, low-speed vehicles and motorcycles produce some form of artificial sound to announce their presence. Essentially, any vehicle sold after September 2018 which can move without the need of an internal combustion engine will require an artificial noisemaker to be fitted.

Do you agree with the regulations? Do you prefer your cars to be quiet or noisy? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below

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