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.

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