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The NHTSA Proposes New Hybrid and EV Minimum Sound Requirements

1/8/2013
In response to the bipartisan Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 (PSEA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed rules that would require all hybrid and electric vehicles to emit a minimum level of sound when traveling at speeds of less than 18 mph. The goal of the new rule, which, if passed, would take effect for the 2016 model year, is to provide pedestrians, bicyclists and the visually impaired with a warning that a hybrid or electric vehicle is traveling nearby.

Unlike conventional vehicles with gasoline engines, hybrid and electric vehicles do not make noise when idling or traveling at a low speed. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 141 would require hybrid and electric vehicles to meet minimum sound requirements so that pedestrians, bicyclists and the visually impaired can detect the presence, direction and location of these vehicles when they are operating at speeds below 18 mph. The NHTSA estimates that the new rule would prevent 2,800 accidental injuries "over the life of each model year."

"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 expected cost of the sound system is $30 per vehicle. Currently, the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf have such systems, which the driver can deactivate if they choose to. The Toyota Prius is also equipped with this type of alert system, and it cannot be deactivated. The new NHTSA rule would prohibit deactivating the alert sound.

According to the NHTSA, auto manufacturers would have "a significant range of choices" regarding the sounds for hybrid and electric vehicles, but any selected sound or set of sounds would have to meet certain minimum requirements and would have to be applied consistently across all versions of a particular make and model.

"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," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.

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