A proposal in 2019 suggested that future electric cars should offer various driver-selectable pedestrian warning sounds. After looking into the proposal, NHTSA decided it's not something the organization can stand behind.
In 2018, NHTSA ruled that "quiet vehicles," such as EVs and hybrid cars, would be required to emit an external sound at low speeds to alert pedestrians and other vehicles of their presence. However, the rule didn't specify the nature of the sounds, though some requirements may make it difficult for automakers to use natural sounds, such as birds chirping or dogs barking.
According to Automotive News, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Global Automakers submitted a joint petition to NHTSA back in 2017, which led to the 2019 proposal. Essentially, the proposal would allow carmakers to install a non-specific number of "compliant sounds" in upcoming EVs.
Based on the initial petition and related proposal, EVs would be able to offer a full suite of different sounds. The driver of the vehicle would then be able to choose which sound the car would use, much like choosing a ringtone on their smartphone. Tesla's "Boombox" feature is sort of an example of this, and NHTSA has issued multiple recalls related to the feature.
At any rate, NHTSA reached out for comment on the proposal during the Trump presidency. The organization was interested in learning whether there was data to support the need for multiple sounds for pedestrian alerts. Moreover, NHTSA asked how many total sounds should be allowed.
This week, on Tuesday, July 12, 2022, NHTSA released a statement sharing that it will not allow the proposal to move forward due to a "lack of supporting data." The agency explained via Automotive News:
"The great majority of the comments on the [Notice of Proposed Rule-Making], including those submitted by advocacy organizations for the blind and by people who are blind or who have low vision, did not favor the proposal to allow hybrid and electric vehicles to have an unlimited number of different pedestrian alert sounds.
NHTSA added that most of the comments on the matter pushed for a more uniform situation related to future pedestrian alert sounds. More specifically, the number of sounds and the various types of sounds should be limited. That said, NHTSA's final official ruling is expected to be published as soon as today, Wednesday, July 13, 2022.
Needless to say, the alliance isn't happy with NHTSA's decision. In fact, it teamed up with the National Federation of the Blind to draft a joint letter explaining that if drivers aren't satisfied with their car's pedestrain alert sound, they may try to disable it completely since there may be no option to change it.
NHTSA maintains that only the manufacturer or dealer can change or disable the sound. However, it would come as no surprise if people figured out how to do it on their own and then shared the information on social media.