By on February 26, 2018

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric, Image: 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]

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66 Comments on “After a Year’s Delay, U.S. Decides All Electric Vehicles Must Make Noise by 2020...”


  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Some warnings might include: “Look at me, I drive an EV”, “Get out of my way, I’m down to 10%”, or “Elon Rules!”

  • avatar
    jmo

    My vote goes for the Jetsons car sound:

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      That’s the only logical choice for the noise.

    • 0 avatar
      IBx1

      Came here to say this. If we have to protect people who haven’t been taught to look for cars before they cross the street, then pay tribute to the classics.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Classics? Naw.

        When I was a kid I used to attach a piece of cardboard to the swing-arm of my bicycle with a clothespin and let the spokes of the wheel slap the cardboard around to make noise so they could hear me coming.

        That’s classic. And that is really all that’s needed. Something to make noise.

        But wait. How about the sound of a steam locomotive? One that puffs, even at standstill.

        Should work.

        • 0 avatar
          redmondjp

          We did that also as kids, and we found that old playing cards worked the best.

          • 0 avatar
            Rick T.

            Unfortunately I used baseball cards and sent many of those hated NY Yankees to their doom that way. Wonder what those Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford cards would be worth these days?

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            They’d be worth some serious bucks.

            Remember the original Star Trek series trading cards, with William Shatner as Capt Kirk?

            We sold our entire collection of more than 100 cards last year to a collector in Temecula, CA, for $1000. These were the cards my sons and I had picked up, here and there, for zip.

            Goes to show, anything can be worth something to someone.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I call BS.

    Yes, more unwitting pedestrians are prone to be hit by an EV (you feel creepy driving through a crowded parking lot in an EV, since nobody can hear you), but 2400 fewer injuries under this rule seems preposterous.

    That 19% improvement means 12,632 people are being injured annually by EVs traveling under 18.6 mph? Twelve thousand?! Where have I missed the headlines?

    • 0 avatar
      CKNSLS Sierra SLT

      To think every auto accident (EV or not) will make headlines/newcasts is a little disingenuous “SCE”.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        I’m not suggesting that, but you’d think we’d have heard some sort of public outcry about such widespread injuries over the past 7 years.

        • 0 avatar
          Deontologist

          Leave it to TTAC writers to not clarify basic things like this.

          What it means is that when EVs are finally mass-adopted, the requirement that EVs make noise at low speeds will save a lot of ER visits.

          Right now, the rule might only spare a few people from injury. But in the future, it’ll spare a lot more. The numbers are all projections, not actual hard data points.

  • avatar

    This is, apparently, a big deal to Elon Musk. As predicted by yours truly five years ago, his lobbying effort failed.

    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/elon-musk-lobbies-dept-of-transportation-on-noisy-ev-pedestrian-alerts/

    • 0 avatar
      Asdf

      Elon Musk should just install an internal combustion engine in his cars instead. It would solve the sound problem, as well as all those other problems he’s been chronically unable to address for years.

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    So once again, the regulators order the industry to adopt something…after they’ve already done so on their own. Well, I guess it makes them feel all warm and fuzzy and important.

  • avatar
    arach

    Does the rule really require a speaker? or can like just having a noisy electric motor do it. Like can it be a buzzer, or baseball cards in the wheel?

    serious question. It seems weird to “mandate” a speaker… and weird futuristic music sounds odd too. Can’t it just be like a grinding sound? or a whoosh sound, or a loud AC compressor? Like does it really have to be a SPEAKER playing artificial noises?

  • avatar
    TR4

    I remember my Mother warning me about the electric trolleybuses still running in Maidstone, Kent, UK in the early 1960s. They would accelerate quicker and much quieter than a typical diesel, so you had to be a little more careful when crossing the road as a pedestrian. I guess no-one thought about artificial noisemakers back then.

  • avatar
    Ermel

    So suddenly noise pollution isn’t a thing anymore? “Rolls Royce. The loudest sound you hear is the clock ticking. Above 18 mph that is; below that it’s the beeping.”

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    A continuous amplified sound of jingling road-use tax money being dropped in a government metallic receptacle would do it for me. Or, alternately, a repetitive “ding” sound similar to that of the older style gas pumps when dispensing road-taxed fuel.

  • avatar
    mcs

    The problem is that pedestrians are walking around with headphones on and staring at their cell phones. They couldn’t hear a Hellcat with straight pipes.

  • avatar
    Stanley Steamer

    I hope they take the interesting route and use a theremin to signal all these ghostly electrics driving around.

    Now if I know Elon, he will equip each of his trucks with one of these guys to meet the requirement, as a not so subtle protest. https://youtu.be/B-DDR8bowUM At least all of the soon-to-be out of work Uber drivers will have an alternate career possibility…ah, it’s all starting to make sense now!

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    In the big picture 40 million is chump change to the whole industry.
    I have seen an EV vehicle or two drive by me in a well cared for parking lot-those things are very quiet. You look over your shoulder to cross the aisle nothing is there-then all of a sudden (unknown to you) one backs out of a parking space behind you and it almost runs one over.

    Making an audible sound at parking lot speeds IS NOT a bad idea.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      The salesman who sold me my former 12 Leaf drove the car up behind me in the Nissan lot, and stopped 6 feet from me. I never heard it, and was stunned to turn around and see a car where one had not been before.

      It was supposedly fitted with a noise maker, but I could never discern what the noise was.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    China is already providing VW with the $3 speaker that VW calls the Soundaktor. We can just use that.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    I would want Tina Tina Chanuse’s voice “Get out da way – electric car coming”

  • avatar
    brn

    I guess I’ll vent also.

    There’s an assumption that EVs are silent and gasoline engines are noisy. EVs have sound deadening too. Thanks goodness, as the whine of an electric motor can be very annoying. While traveling at a set speed or slowing down, my gasoline engine is nearly silent. At low speeds, while coasting, you’ll hear my tires before you’ll hear my engine. If you’re going to make such a law, it should be about minimum noise levels for a car, not what powers it.

    At 15mph on the freeway, will we all have to listen to the drone of EVs? Maybe someone can turn up their rap music to drown it out.

    If people would look up from their phones… oh, never mind.

  • avatar
    jeanbaptiste

    What about deaf people?

    Sea royalty though, I can hear a hybrid in the parking lot. They all have the high pitch whine. AND I have hearing loss.

    Trying to solve a problem that’s not there. How about we work on bigger issues like hid headlight retrofits or Maybe free lifelong healthcare for senators.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      “What about deaf people?”

      All cars should have strobe lights. White to the front, amber to the rear, blue on the left, red on the right.

      Then we’ll need to come up with a new solution for emergency vehicles.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    When I drive our C-Max through pedestrian-intensive environments in battery mode, it definitely surprises a few of them, even in a city full of EVs. I can imagine this preventing a few injuries.

    But, as someone who’s likely to get another new EV in 2019, I really hope the noises are less annoying than the one currently on the Leaf.

  • avatar
    amca

    Imagine the meeting that came up with the 18.6 mph standard. There was an 18.7 faction, and an 18.5 faction. It required meeting after meeting to bring the two sides together . . . .

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    The problem with the date is all the EVs that don’t have an audible and will still be on the road. Blind people still have to be vigilant. I can see articles written about the blind getting hit a day, a week, or a month before the deadline, but unless all EVs are retrofitted by then, it won’t really matter.

    Another problem is the more numerous deaf, for whom any sound is worthless. What will be proposed then – flashing lights? There was an anti-automobile traffic law that required a motorist to have a flagman in front of the vehicle to warn pedestrians. The solutions that will be proposed might not be that ridiculous, but with government you can never be sure.

  • avatar
    James2

    I would rather have the bureaucrats go after bicyclists, especially those who blast past me *on the sidewalk* when they should be, as they sooo like to say, sharing the road with cars.

    But, if we have to go after EVs, then equip ’em with the Stuka’s noisemakers. That’ll open up the lane ahead… allowing them, especially the Priuses, to continue to go a tick slower than the rest of the cars.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Back in the ‘80s pedestrians didn’t need to hear my car, they could smell the clutch before I got there.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    This is one of the stupidest rules I’ve ever heard of.

  • avatar
    IHateCars

    Sam & Dave’s “Hold on, I’m coming…”, just the chorus on an endless loop.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    The headline should be “After Years of Delay” as the present construction with the apostrophe makes it appear as if there was only a single year of delay.

    That said, the only appropriate standard noise for battery vehicles is Julius Fucik’s “Entry of the Gladiators.” Preferably played on calliope.

  • avatar
    dwford

    Funny. This was the reason Hyundai gave in 2010 for delaying the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid – to add a low speed noise.

  • avatar
    turf3

    So, more noise pollution, to go with the light pollution since everyone has decided that headlights need to be powerful enough to light up the back side of the moon.

    And those damn backup beepers that no one pays any attention to, because on any job site there are four or five of them running constantly so you can’t even tell where they are coming from.

    And the car alarms that do absolutely freaking nothing but ruin your enjoyment of whatever you are trying to enjoy.

    And the freaking boom box stereos. And the fartcan mufflers on twenty year old Honda Civic four door sedans that couldn’t exceed 80 mph if you pushed them off a cliff, – BUT I’VE GOT STICKERS!

    And now that everyone has to have their high beams plus fog lights plus driving lights on all day long as well (because safety requires daytime running lights, you know), motorcycles are even more invisible than ever.

    You know, I think every legislator who wants to add one more alarm ought to be forced (like Clockwork Orange) to read “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” a hundred times and then write a 500 page report on “Why This Story is Relevant to the Legislation I am Proposing”.

    Freaking idiots.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    The more I think sbout it the sillier this seems. I’ve had a hybrid for about 5 years and it goes into electric mode at low speeds.

    It is my responsibility to look out for pedestrians etc. because I can’t hear them. In most parking lot or slow traffic situations there is too much ambient noise for anyone to notice a difference between an idling car engine and a car with the engine off.

    At higher speeds the engine noise becomes minor compared to the wind and tire noise. So the only time this might be a problem is at very low speeds in very quiet places where the driver and/or pedestrian are not paying due attention.

    Pedestrians and motorists run into each other frequently anyway. The only problems I’ve had with pedestrians and my hybrid in ev mode, are on quiet lanes with the pedestrians enjoying walking ahead of me and in the middle of the lane facing away from me and completely oblivious to my car. Blowing the horn seems like overkill, so I just wait until they wander off. No big deal. I suppose I could just start the motor.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Just play the stereo loud and crack a window

  • avatar
    George B

    My preference would be for electric cars to be quiet, but if it needs to make a sound, I’d use the sound of of Paul Gilbert using a Makita cordless drill to play guitar.

  • avatar
    St.George

    This is definitely not a problem. All EV’s are already fitted as standard with ‘virtue signalers’, these alert everyone in the vicinity and are impossible to ignore!

  • avatar
    jfbramfeld

    One advantage, at least for the auto makers, is that they will be immune from personal injury suits for being “too quiet.” This is the byproduct of a doctrine called federal preemption. It would have been better to just outright ban such suits. I’m amazed one hasn’t been brought yet.

  • avatar
    whynotaztec

    I want mine to sound like a screamin’ jimmy!

  • avatar
    random1

    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.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

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


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