After a Year's Delay, U.S. Decides All Electric Vehicles Must Make Noise by 2020

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
after a years delay u s decides all electric vehicles must make noise by 2020

First ordered by Congress in 2010 and delayed endlessly ever since, the U.S. Department of Transportation has finalized a date for the end of “noiseless” electric vehicles and hybrids: September 2020.

That’s a year after the previous deadline, announced in the final days of the Obama administration in November 2016. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration subsequently froze the date in order to hear arguments from automakers. With that process now wrapped up, the new (and unchanged) rules mean any four-wheeled vehicle with a GVWR of less than 10,000 pounds must emit a pedestrian-warning noise at speeds below 18.6 miles per hour.

Enjoy the “silence” while you can.

Of course, many electric and hybrid cars already create just such a noise. Nissan’s Leaf has issued an otherworldly sound since its debut at the start of the decade, and other automakers have followed suit.

The updated rule applies to vehicles travelling forward or in reverse. Above 18.6 mph, the NHTSA claims wind and road noise provides adequate warning for a green vehicle’s approach. By September 2019, automakers must have warning sounds installed in 50 percent of applicable vehicles.

Of the arguments heard by the industry, the cost of implementing the safety measures was a popular complaint. Adding a waterproof external speaker to the growing crop of plug-in hybrids and EVs means approximately $40 million in industry-wide costs that hadn’t previously existed. Speed was another consideration. Nissan, for example, wanted the maximum speed held at 12.4 mph — a request the NHTSA kiboshed.

While the body of evidence for the accident-preventing benefits of noisy electric vehicles isn’t vast, the federal agency claims models with a “quiet” mode (silent low-speed electric operation) are 19 percent more likely to be involved in a collision with a pedestrian or cyclist than an internal combustion vehicle. Adding the speakers could prevent 2,400 injuries annually once adopted, the NHTSA claims.

If you’ve ever piloted an electric vehicle with a pedestrian warning, the noise can be unsettling, even unpleasant. That’s why the feds haven’t yet decided whether to allow drivers a choice. Some automakers hope to have owners select from a list of regulator-approved warning tones — a list that probably won’t include famous guitar riffs of the Seventies. Stay tuned for more word on that.

[Source: Reuters] [Image: Steph Willems/TTAC]

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  • Random1 Random1 on Feb 28, 2018

    I missed this yesterday. It's absurd. By this reasoning, all cars should have some minimum noise threshold? Presumably a Rolls is very quiet at idle/low speed. Is it too quiet? So stupid.

  • Vulpine Vulpine on Mar 02, 2018

    I can hardly wait for all the "disturbing the peace" calls to police because an EV is obeying the speed limit.

  • Brett Woods My 4-Runner had a manual with the 4-cylinder. It was acceptable but not really fun. I have thought before that auto with a six cylinder would have been smoother, more comfortable, and need less maintenance. Ditto my 4 banger manual Japanese pick-up. Nowhere near as nice as a GM with auto and six cylinders that I tried a bit later. Drove with a U.S. buddy who got one of the first C8s. He said he didn't even consider a manual. There was an article about how fewer than ten percent of buyers optioned a manual in the U.S. when they were available. Visited my English cousin who lived in a hilly suburb and she had a manual Range Rover and said she never even considered an automatic. That's culture for you.  Miata, Boxster, Mustang, Corvette and Camaro; I only want manual but I can see both sides of the argument for a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger. Once you get past a certain size and weight, cruising with automatic is a better dynamic. A dual clutch automatic is smoother, faster, probably more reliable, and still allows you to select and hold a gear. When you get these vehicles with a high performance envelope, dual-clutch automatic is what brings home the numbers. 
  • ToolGuy 2019 had better comments than 2023 😉
  • Inside Looking Out In June 1973, Leonid Brezhnev arrived in Washington for his second summit meeting with President Richard Nixon. Knowing of the Soviet leader’s fondness for luxury automobiles, Nixon gave him a shiny Lincoln Continental. Brezhnev was delighted with the present and insisted on taking a spin around Camp David, speeding through turns while the president nervously asked him to slow down.
  • Bobby D'Oppo Great sound and smooth power delivery in a heavier RWD or AWD vehicle is a nice blend, but current V8 pickup trucks deliver an unsophisticated driving experience. I think a modern full-size pickup could be very well suited to a manual transmission.In reality, old school, revvy atmo engines pair best with manual transmissions because it's so rewarding to keep them in the power band on a winding road. Modern turbo engines have flattened the torque curve and often make changing gears feel more like a chore.
  • Chuck Norton For those worried about a complex power train-What vehicle doesn't have one? I drive a twin turbo F-150 (3.5) Talk about complexity.. It seems reliability based on the number of F-150s sold is a non-issue. As with many other makes/models. I mean how many operations are handle by micro today's vehicles?