What's That? I Can't Hear You Over All This Racket!

What's That? I Can't Hear You Over All This Racket!

Legislating the sound an EV makes is a proposition that has been a long time coming.  Some would say too long; others, not long enough.

Whatever your opinion, the fact is that electric vehicles at low speeds operate almost completely silently; and without some form of audible warning, EVs could potentially be more harmful to those around them if  they go unseen and unheard.

Nissan Removed The Ability To Disable The Pedestrian Warning Sound in 2012 In Anticpation Of This Ruling (2011 LEAF shown above)

Nissan Removed The Ability To Disable The Pedestrian Warning Sound in 2012 In Anticpation Of This Ruling (2011 LEAF shown above)

The NHSTA has recommended, after almost 3 years of thinking about it (ever since 2010, with the Pedestrian Safety Act), that all electric vehicles, and similarly operating hybrids, travelling under 18 miles per hour need an audible alert when in operation.  This new sound has to "enable pedestrians to discern vehicle presence, direction, location and operation."

In truth, this comes as no surprise to any of the major plug-in automakers, as most EVs already come with a driver enabled system to warm pedestrians of their proximity.  Other auto makers, like Nissan with the LEAF, have already implemented the mandatory change. (Nissan removed the ability to disable to pedestrian alert on the LEAF between model year 2011 and 2012)

The NHSTA estimates that 2,800 fewer pedestrians and bicyclists injuries would occur over the life of each model-year vehicle effected by this change.

"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.

The NHSTA has logged the changes with the Federal Register and will address any problems that are brought over a 60-day public comment period.

  • What you need to know about the sound:  While each automaker is free to emit their own individual, unique sound at the appropriate level, it requires that each model they produce to emit the same sound
  • Cost: The NHSTA estimates that the speaker system will add $30 cost to each vehicle
  • When:  NHTSA has until next July 4th to set the regulation, then another six months to publish the final rule (Jan 2014), and upwards of another full model year to start start to implement it ( starting Sept 2015).  The legislation will take 3 years in total to be phased in.  (But we expect most automakers to proactively comply with MY 2014 offerings this fall)

NHSTA STATEMENT ON THE MINIMUM SOUND REQUIRMENT:

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.

Read the extremely lengthy, 248 page PDF proposal here (no wonder it took them 3 years to get this drafted)