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

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

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]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

More by Steph Willems

Join the conversation
2 of 66 comments
  • 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.

  • EBFlex Yawn. It’s still a white refrigerator. A Camry has more soul and passion than this.
  • Jkross22 For as nice as these were at the time, I always preferred the 850, even with wrong wheel drive. Especially the early 90s. In sedan form. The 850R. Mmmmm.
  • FreedMike Well, if you want a Swedish cockroach that's easy to work on, here's your ticket. Tad overpriced but it's an asking price, after all. And those old Volvo seats are divine. It'd be worth a look.
  • SCE to AUX "...has arguably advantaged the Asian nation by subsidizing electric vehicles, it has attempted to prioritize more domestic manufacturing by pouring money atop the relevant industries via the so-called Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act"Seems like you're trying to diss the Biden Administration before crediting its protectionism in the IRA.Chinese-made EV batteries aren't part of the subsidy program, so subsidizing EVs hasn't advantaged China. But the general sourcing of Chinese-made components - whether in a subsidized car or not - does help China.This is a general problem in the US economy. Everybody wants to wave the flag, but nobody wants to be the high-cost supplier, and nobody wants to pay more.The same scenario played out 50 years ago, except the competitor was Japan. At the end of the day, protectionism didn't work, and consumers got what they wanted.
  • Bkojote I'm so glad I bought a Kia Telluride instead of a Toyota Tacoma given all these recalls. I wanted an off roady looking vehicle so I could impress the secretary we hired but instead my wife left me when she saw my phone messages and now I'm stuck making the $1200 monthly payment until I can refinance at a lower rate than 28% even though I lost my job last month. I'm hoping the Kia dealers will let me trade to the new one with the bigger infotainment tooFunny enough the secretary's new boyfriend is driving a Tacoma but with the recall maybe I'll have a shot.