Carmakers Fight Back Over Pedestrian Warning Noises

By · March 20, 2013

Electric Drive Warning Sounds

Critics of a proposed rule mandating the inclusion of artificial noise generators in electric drive vehicles say there is little evidence to justify the regulation.

Carmakers are fighting new proposed federal rules mandating the inclusion of automatic artificial sound generators in electric drive vehicles capable of traveling without the use of an engine. On Friday, the Association of Global Automakers and the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers submitted a joint comment urging regulators to revisit the proposed rules, which cover vehicles ranging from hybrids like the Toyota Prius to plug-ins like the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulations have been in the works since 2010, when advocacy groups voiced concerns that silent vehicles would contribute to a rise in accidents involving pedestrians—particularly the visually impaired. Carmakers worked with these groups and NHTSA to draft the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, which led to the creation of the current proposed rules.

But carmakers now say that NHTSA has gone too far in the provisions of its notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) and that additional time will be needed to refine the proposal and implement it. Currently, the rules are set to go into effect by September 2014, but the lobby groups would like to see that date pushed back to 2018.

“While we support the intent of this NPRM, Alliance and Global members have serious concerns with the consequences that the requirements as proposed will have with regard to customer acceptance and technical practicability.” said the industry groups in their comments. “If implemented as proposed, [the rules] would result in alert sounds that are louder than necessary, create driver and occupant annoyance and cost more than necessary.”

Though critics of the mandate claim that there is little evidence to support the assertion that quiet cars traveling at low speeds increase accidents, NHTSA estimates they are 19 percent more likely to harm a pedestrian and 38 percent more likely to be involved in a crash with a cyclist.

Under the proposed rules, warning systems would have to be enabled whenever a vehicle travels at speeds less than 18.6 mph without the use of an engine. Carmakers say that tire noise eliminates the need for such a system at speeds higher than 12.4 mph.

To hear examples of the potential sounds that fall within the parameters established by NHTSA, visit its website.


· · 5 years ago

These proposals are stupid. At anything over 5mph my EV makes enough tire and wind noise to be heard. The only time the car is near silent is when it is crawling along at slower than parking lot speeds - and at that speed I hope I would be able to not run over people.

I have owned and driven ICE vehicles which were just as quiet when driving down neighborhood streets, generally the only time the engines made noise was when accelerating or climbing. Vehicles can be quiet enough that people keep trying to start already started vehicles... Heck, I had a 4.0L V6 Chrysler van which was near silent when not under load.

This is a silly idea. If we really wanted to save lives we would build better pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure - not install noise-makers in EVs.

· · 5 years ago

Valkraider I agree..

The Fisker though, sounded like the LOST IN SPACE spaceship pod. Looks like thats one sound we're not going to hear for a while.

· · 5 years ago

In our (quiet) street there are 3 Volt owners (of which I am one). Several times I got surprised when I turned around and one of them was driving right behind me without me hearing it. As a cyclist is a busy city this really scares me. It is difficult enough to try to not get hit by texting drivers and that is when you can actually hear them coming up being you.

· · 5 years ago

If they want to move forward with this, it should be mandated that sound levels of all cars be tested, and any car below a certain noise level have the noise maker added. Otherwise it's just another hater attack on EVs to make them less appealing.

· · 5 years ago

These stats -->"NHTSA estimates they are 19 percent more likely to harm a pedestrian and 38 percent more likely to be involved in a crash with a cyclist."

are based on a single, completely methodologically flawed study in which more than 30 times as many ICE car/pedestrian/bike accidents were surveyed as hybrid accidents.

Also, totally agree with @Skotty --> They've got to include ALL cars here, not just plug-ins, or it's fundamentally discriminatory.

· · 5 years ago

I agree with Skotty.

It should apply to ALL VEHICLES. Any vehicle with sound level below xxx dB at yyy speed will require this devices.

Some Toyota ICE while idling/coasting is quieter than my Volt going uphill at 5mph....

· · 5 years ago

When I walk to my kid's school, there is a long curved driveway with a patch of trees on the inside, so you cannot see cars until they are pretty close. But you can hear *all* of them coming well before you can see them - because the *tire noise* is the loudest thing on virtually all modern cars!

Last time I checked, all EV's and plugin cars have tires... This is a "solution" in search of a problem.


· · 5 years ago

Then there's this UK study that concludes artificial noise on quiet EV's isn't needed:

· · 5 years ago

I'm looking at this one somewhat pragmatically. We're already forced to accept all sorts of things in modern cars that we don't absolutely need . . . electric crank windows, GPS and, more recently, rear view TV cameras. So a nominal noise maker doesn't really offend me all that much.

In an effort to make lemonade out of lemons, we could also have fun with this. The Blade Runner movie flying car sound has already been seriously floated by at least one manufacturer as one they would offer. The humorous among us could insist on a coughing ICE sound, with fake (harmless) emissions via a mini rock concert smoke machine. The sound of snow chains (always novel down here in desert during the summer months) or a loose lug nut rattling around inside a hubcap could be among the more tongue-in-cheek choices.

Much like cell phone ring tones, we could customize our EV sounds. If it ends up becoming institutionalized, we might as well make the best of it.

· · 5 years ago


Re: customizable sounds, I have a feeling that if the NHTSA were at all open to this idea, carmakers would wholeheartedly support these systems. (Imagine how much money they could make selling custom "ringtones" every time a new sci-fi franchise comes out!)

However, NHTSA will not allow this to happen and reiterated a few weeks ago that it's a total non-starter. As a lifelong city-dweller though, I'm with you -- I'm used to noise pollution and prefer that if it's there it at least be interesting.

· · 5 years ago

I think the sounds are unnecessary, on the other hand, if the dB level is low enough, I don't see an issue. However...

If they do add the sounds, I would not turn them off or change them for fear of a lawsuit if I ever hit a pedestrian who might claim I increased the risk of an accident by tampering with the pedestrian warning system.

· · 5 years ago

Absolutely ridiculous.

How about a big squeeze ball horn that goes AAaaaaooooga.

· · 5 years ago

Well, that really is a shame, Zach. I do note that the first hyperlink in your article takes us to a Detroit News story, where it's quoted . . .

"NHTSA is allowing automakers to have a significant range of choices about the sounds it chooses for its vehicles, but the characteristics of the sounds must meet certain minimum requirements. NHTSA says each vehicle of the same make and model would need to emit the same sound or set of sounds."

So, if this were to be implemented, the automaker would choose just one sound per model and we would be basically stuck with that. :-(

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