NHTSA Says Electric and Hybrid Vehicles Need to Make More Noise

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One of the most difficult things to get used to the first time you drive a hybrid or electric vehicle is the silence. It’s unnerving not to hear the engine, but it quickly becomes the norm, and you get used to the quiet. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is taking issue with all that quiet and adding a sound requirement to new cars.

It sounds a little crazy, but it makes a lot of sense. The need for sound has nothing to do with the people inside the car, but it helps the pedestrians and bicyclists sharing the road.

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In the past, cars have made enough noise that they didn’t need to be seen for people to know one was close. The sound of the engine acted as an early warning to a pedestrian or bicyclist who might not otherwise know a car was approaching, especially from behind.

The problem with electrics and hybrids in EV mode is that they make no noise, so someone on the street might not have any idea a vehicle is nearby. Ideally, we should all be paying attention to where we’re going, but NHTSA thinks these quiet cars are unsafe.

According to the NHTSA’s statement, adding an audible alert to hybrid and electric vehicles will prevent 2,400 injuries each year. This could be particularly helpful to those who are blind or have other vision issues that make it difficult for them to see approaching vehicles.

The new rule applies to all hybrid and electric vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less. They’ll need to make an audible sound traveling in forward or reverse at speeds under 19 mph.

Higher speeds won’t require the alert since the noise of the tires and wind will be enough to warn people of the approaching vehicle. Automakers have until September 1, 2018, to add an audible sound to at least half of their vehicles with full compliance required by September 1, 2019.

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It’s a good idea and will make roads safer for pedestrians, but it’s likely a bit of a disappointment to those who own hybrid and electric vehicles. The quiet of these cars is one of the benefits of ownership.

NHTSA is leaving it to each automaker to determine exactly what kind of sound their car will emit. Let’s hope it ends up being a sound that doesn’t drive us all nuts.

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Nicole Wakelin

Nicole Wakelin