NHTSA Pushes Back Noise Requirement For Electric Cars Until 2018

FEB 7 2015 BY MARK KANE 35

Graphic Showing Nissan LEAF Sound

Graphic Showing Nissan LEAF Sound

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is working on the requirements for near-silent cars, mainly with all-electric and hybrid drive, to add sound that will be “recognizable” as a motor vehicle in operation.

NHTSA must develop the requirements as Congress passed the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act to limit the expected increase of crashes involving pedestrians.

“It mandates that the Department of Transportation create safety standards for car manufacturers to create a sound that alerts pedestrians to the presence of a vehicle moving at speeds less than about 18 mph.

Under the PSEA, the added sound must be “recognizable” as that of a motor vehicle in operation. NHTSA’s Proposed Rule is projected to reduce the number of incidents in which EVs and HVs strike pedestrians. The PSEA regulation will require all new hybrids and electrics to have the audible alert system if they’re manufactured on or after September 1 of the calendar year that begins three years after the date the final rule is issued.”

It’s not an easy task to prepare the right set of requirements.  So, recently, the NHTSA decided to move the deadline back to 2018.

Currently, electric cars don’t need to be equipped with such noise-making systems. Some manufacturers developed it, like Nissan’s Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians in the LEAF, but some automakers don’t have such a system in their electric cars. There are different policies on what type of sound is used, at what speeds and if the driver can activate or deactivate the sound.

“While the driver and passengers probably enjoy the lack of noise, it’s a danger for pedestrians who are walking close to these vehicles, experts say. The lack of familiar engine sounds jeopardizes the safety of blind and visually impaired pedestrians, as well as bicyclists, runners, small children, the elderly and anyone else who’s on foot but generally not paying attention.”

Not all EV drivers agree that sound should be implemented. We hope that requirements will not lessen the beauty of silent EVs too much. Drivers should be more careful around pedestrians and pedestrians must be more alert too.

Perhaps some aspects of autonomous driving will lead to a compromise where sound is emitted only when pedestrians are around and only in some directions.

Here’s some more info on the NHTSA’s push-back-to-2018 decision:

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

If you own an electric or hybrid vehicle without a noisemaker, don’t expect to find aftermarket devices to address the issue. “It’s not a priority,” Pare says.

But that doesn’t mean car manufacturers are doing nothing, says Chris Duke, who has 27 years experience customizing vehicles and hosts the auto improvement show Motorz. For example, Toyota and Lexus hybrid vehicles have a Vehicle Proximity Notification System. The top-selling electric car, the Nissan Leaf, has an alert noise, called the Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians. The plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt also has an alert noise, which the driver can activate.

But each original equipment manufacturer (OEM) is choosing how to proceed and what sound to include. The pedestrian alert on the Fisker Karma, audible when the car is in electric mode at speeds under 25 mph, sounds like a “combination of Tron light cycle, the 2001 monolith noise, the Droid phone commercial sound and a squadron of P-51 Mustangs banking overhead,” wrote Dan Edmunds, Edmunds.com’s director of vehicle testing. The sound of the 2015 Kia Soul EV is “part light saber, part slow-motion crickets,” another reviewer wrote.

Meanwhile, though, “Some OEMs aren’t doing anything until they know what the federal law says,” says Duke. Ford is one of the carmakers that has not yet added warning sounds to its EVs and plug-in hybrids, company spokesperson Kelli Felker confirms.

Manufacturers want the alert sound to be pleasant to the ear of drivers and passengers, while avoiding a Pandora’s box of too-divergent sounds, like individual ring tones for every vehicle. “Everybody’s looking for NHTSA to come up with a solution so everybody can move on,” Duke says.”

Source: Edmunds.com

Categories: General

Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

35 Comments on "NHTSA Pushes Back Noise Requirement For Electric Cars Until 2018"

newest oldest most voted

I still think that the main problem is not that EVs are silent, it is rather that people on foot are ignorant / not paying attention…
– I often see pedestrians with headphones or elderly people with bad hearing… They wouldn’t detect if a bulldozer were behind them.

I say it’s a dual responsibility were drivers show respect and pedestrians are vigilant. Anyone in traffic should pay attention!

Blind people disagree.

By the same token, I’m sure visually impaired people would *agree* that if they are hit by a bicycle doing 40 mph that it will hurt just as much as an electric car doing, say, 15 mph, probably more so. Neither machine would make any noise so why fit a noise maker to the latter and not the former? Or, for that matter, any top end, luxury car that produces no noise until that made by the tyres becomes noticeable – at around 20 mph or so? Or mobility scooters, legally capable of both occupying pavements and doing 8 mph (in the UK at least)?

Nicklas is right – it is principally down to the pedestrian to look where they are going and to the driver to obey the rules of the road and watch out for fools, the distracted and disabled and use his/her horn appropriately – that’s what it’s there for!

yeah, I once was behind a lady walking in the parking lot right in the middle of the drive lane. Even though there was a sidewalk just 5 feet to her right, she felt the shortest line to the grocery store door was better.

I was literally two feet behind her with the Leaf making it’s obvious noise, and she was completely oblivious that I was waiting for her to get out of the way. Or at least she acted that way.

You have the same problem with big-engined cars at very low speed – they are nearly silent. Will they implement the noise-regulation for them too?

Yep, go ahead and add a noisemaker rule, but make sure it applies to all vehicles. How much you want to bet that if the law was applied to all vehicles, it would be dropped like a hot potato?

Pretty stupid solution to a non problem.
As everybody knows, pedestrians got struck by truck, buses, motorcycle, moped, train and none of them is quiet.
It is the reponsability of the driver to not impact to people or objet, and it is the responsability of pedestrian to behave correctly, cross at crossing point, looking before engaging a road with vehicule capability.
I just want to disable it on my Leaf.
Just make it a choice for the driver and let them decide if there’s a real risk of not being “heard”
Car have a thing call horn, liggt and brake too.

“light” of course!

Lights aren’t going to help blind people.

And noises aren’t going to help deaf people.

Shall we mandate that all cars have robot arms that will reach out and tap pedestrians on the shoulder?

That doesn’t seem to be enough to some of the senseless people in here 😉

How about lasers then?

I wonder if there have been any studies showing that EVs and Hybrids have higher pedestrian accident rates than other vehicles of similar size. Or is this just a problem that people imagine will happen.

The latter.

But it isn’t a ‘non problem’. In Japan Prius’ have noise generators due to pedestrians being knocked over when they have been running in all electric mode.

Uh-huh… and where is the evidence?

The NHTSA’s delay will add more new and used vehicles with various or no warning sound.

The LEAF has a much louder backing up beep, and it’s still often ignored by many pedestrians, in my experience.

I’d vote for the Jetson’s flying car sound.

Actually, I’d prefer a silent smarter car that simply avoids collisions.

Maybe when you turn the ignition on it plays “Meet George Jetson…”
Some alternatives would be the sound made by a theremin that increases in pitch the faster you go, or maybe a loudspeaker with a recording of someone saying “get out of the way” that starts off quiet and changes slowly to a shout the faster you go.
Another favourite would be to play music. Ride Of The Valkyries would be a good one 🙂

My new Kia Soul EV has a really pleasant musical sound at low speeds that you essentially can’t hear inside the car, a real elegant solution in my opinion. I agree that collision avoidance technology is more important. However, I think those of you getting upset about this and blaming pedestrians are missing the point- blind people cross intersections. That’s why they have those annoying-but-important sounds in crosswalks.

Will I have to get a “rattling Thingy”, like I had one as a kid, on my bicycle as well? I’ve had a few encounters with pedestrians (none of them blind or deaf) and passenger car doors whilst cycling? I do believe that people are more and more multi-tasking and not concentrate at the main task Walk, drive,…) at hand anymore.

Welcome to the 21st century. That’s called modern life.

Volt has it right, a quieter horn to alert pedestrians without blaring the main horn at them.

I hate the idea of a constant forced sound that you can’t disable. We have too much most pollution already, why make it worse?!

And my blind aunt agrees.


The SciFi solution is to detect pedestrian paths and aim a narrow beam of sound at them.

That should be ‘noise pollution’ above, not ‘most’

And i saw a a video of a test for a system that detects pedestrians with night vision and highlights them on a screen, even aims a spotlight to them only, so a similar system with an alert might not be that far off…

Before fixing anything, lets determine that there is actually a problem. Are electric vehicles hitting people at an unusually high rate?

IMO, the near silence of EVs at very low speed (~5mph) is a problem, and a discrete noise would be a cheap and easy solution that could prevent tragedies, however rare. It’s not just dump people not paying attention, but also kids, the elderly, the hearing impaired, the blind, etc., or just plain normal people caught off guard. What could possibly be the big deal? Sheesh, it seems sometimes that owning an EV comes with such a sense of entitlement.

“…entitlement…” please don’t be silly. It is just that EV drivers find the silence so attractive after having to put up with the din and clatter of the ICEV that we strongly resent some dim-witted, posterior-kissing, jump-on-the-bandwagon politico from enforcing an utterly pointless piece of tech the cost for which will, of course, be passed on to the EV buyer.

If we are really interested in doing something useful to prevent collisions, have ALL vehicle equipped with a transmitter of a some form of appropriate radiation which ALL other vehicles (and suitably equipped pedestrians and other interested road users) can use to warn them of the approach of a vehicle. This system could then be used to prevent accidents involving the disabled as well as horse riders etc in narrow country lanes for example. At least there would be some point to that!

Are they going to demand attaching flags to the front to not scare the horses too?

What about blind horses?



I’m generally all for safety. But I find these noise requirements just ridiculous.

And the first thing I would do would be to disengage the speakers anyway.

I can imagine they would very quickly be hacked into by the young’uns and we would find that instead of just sneering at the drivers of cars with that noise that THEY call music coming from inside the car, they would be blaring their ‘music’ outside of the car via the ‘safety speakers’!

There is an update to the government study on the subject of Hybrid Electrics vs ICE vs Pedestrians:


It claims:

“Overall, the odds ratios indicate that the odds of an HE vehicle being in
either a pedestrian or bicycle crash are greater
, 35 percent and 57 percent respectively,
than the odds of an ICE
vehicle being in a
similar crash.”

HE = Hybrid Electric. The study does not appear to include data from BEVs, which based on this data, would likely be as dangerous as an HE at low speed, due to being equally silent.

The data strongly supports the need for an audio warning system on EVs to assist pedestrian safety, despite what your gut tells you…

All cars already have an audio warning system. It’s called a horn.

If there is a minimum sound level requirement for cars, it should be applied equally across all vehicles regardless of drivetrain.

There are plenty of EV’s, PHEV’s, and hybrid’s with electric-only slow speed operation in our parking lot at work. I can hear them coming easier than I can hear most Lexus cars coming. I personally don’t know of any completely silent electric drivetrains that emit zero noise at all.