Electric Cars Are Quiet — Too Quiet

For years, luxury automakers have touted the benefits of a quiet ride. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is afraid that electric vehicles and hybrids have taken a quiet drive to dangerous levels. The NHTSA is now pushing to have noisemakers added to these vehicles to protect pedestrians and cyclists from accidentally crossing in front of a vehicle and being struck by something they never heard coming. The noisemakers would turn on whenever the vehicle was travelling less than 18 miles per hour, as the vehicles are loud enough to be heard when they go faster than that.

If the rule is enacted, the noisemakers would have to be loud enough to be heard by pedestrians over background noises. Automakers would be able to choose what sound the noisemakers make from a range of options, though similar vehicles would be required to make the same noise. The rule is now available for comment by the public. Suggestions by the public may be taken into account when the NHTSA writes the final version of the rule.

The NHTSA estimates that for each model year of an electric or hybrid vehicle with a noisemaker installed, roughly 2,800 pedestrian and cyclist injuries would be prevented over the course of the vehicle’s life. Preventing pedestrian injuries has been a focus area for lawmakers in recent years. This rule was created to fulfill one of the requirements of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010.

While a quieter ride is certainly something car owners can aspire to, it should not come at the expense of pedestrian and cyclist safety. Given that most accidents occur at intersections, it is vital that a vehicle make enough noise to draw the attention of these groups as they enter the road.

Source: The New York Times, “Proposal for Noisier Electric Cars at Low Speed,” 7 January 2013