The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is currently investigating whether early electric cars and hybrids should be equipped with pedestrian alert sound for safety. While new EVs are required to have the safety feature, that's not the case with older versions.
NHTSA may decide that EVs from as early as 1997 would be considered to have a safety defect if they don't emit pedestrian alert sounds. If it does move forward with changing the rules, and the cars are considered to have a safety defect, some sort of action will need to be taken.
The government organization just opened this investigation on January 27, 2023. For background, all new EVs must emit an alert sound at lower speeds so that pedestrians are aware of the vehicle's presence. This is because EVs make almost no sound, and it's especially true at lower speeds since the sound of the tires on the pavement can also be minimal.
In 2018, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 141 was passed. In summary, it required all electric and hybrid cars with a gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or less would have to be produced with the ability to emit pedestrian warning sounds. The cars would have to make the sounds when traveling at speeds of less than 19 mph. The standard applies to all cars produced since March 1, 2021.
In July 2022, NHTSA got a petition arguing that all electric and hybrid cars should be equipped with the alerts, no matter when they were manufactured or sold. The petitioner essentially says that any such car on the road that doesn't have the sounds should be considered to have a safety defect that needs to be resolved. A portion of the petition reads via Teslarati:
“The petitioner asserts that hybrid and electric vehicles to which the standard does not apply should be found to contain a safety defect. In support of the petition, the petitioner includes findings contained in a bill introduced in the House of Representatives in 2009, the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, H.R. 734, 111th CONG. (2009).”
The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 says that all cars should be produced with a means for alerting "blind and other pedestrians" of their presence. The act became law beginning in January 2011.
If NHTSA decides to move forward with the suggestion explained by the petitioner, it could impact some 9.1 million vehicles from 13 different manufacturers. The EVs and hybrids would likely need to be recalled so that the safety defect could be resolved.