Silent Running: Ford Sought Exception on Federal Noise Requirements for Hybrid Cars, EVs

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

One of the benefits touted by early electric car advocates was a reduction in noise pollution stemming from automobiles. Electric motors have the potential to run far quieter than their internal combustion rivals, which could result in softer-sounding roadways.

The U.S. Department of Transportation started seriously worrying about the safety implications of silent-running vehicles back in 2010. Still, it wasn’t until this year that it legally imposed artificial noises on EVs as a way to warn inattentive or impaired pedestrians. Starting in 2020, vehicles with a GVWR of less than 10,000 pounds must emit a pedestrian-warning noise at speeds below 18.6 miles per hour.

However, despite a lengthy dialogue between government and industry, Ford was apparently seeking an exception for the federally mandated noise maker.

According to The Verge, Ford issued a comment on the the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) final ruling on the matter from February. Apparently, the automaker expressed its intent to comply with the ruling but wanted to know if it would be feasible to suspend the sound for certain applications.

That comment has since been redacted, but the government said it would respond to a comment submitted by Ford “regarding the legality of equipping certain vehicles used for security purposes with a means of turning off the required pedestrian alert sound.”

Why would any automaker want such a thing? The most likely application would be law enforcement. One of Ford’s biggest selling points for its Police Responder Hybrid Sedan is that it’s useful for quiet patrolling. The company also offers a user-configurable “Silent Mode” on law enforcement models that disables interior lamps and daytime running lights. That feature would only be sweetened by a vehicle that could also crawl into position without the clattering of an internal combustion engine or some artificially manufactured hum.

A representative for the NHTSA told The Verge that Ford’s comments were made after the public comment period ended in October 2015, adding that publicly accessible references to the automaker’s request had been “inadvertently left in.” Ultimately, the agency decided that that “addressing the late comment would delay issuing the notice” on the EV noise ruling.

As the inclusion of noise below 19 mph exists specifically to improve public safety, automakers may have a hard time getting an exception for certain vehicles. However, the NHTSA is still considering Ford’s claim.

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Iddqd Iddqd on Aug 30, 2018

    believe it or not but there are sound engineers working on the perfect sound for an EV for couple of years (this is for europe/germany...until those idiots finally surpass Telas`s standards as to range/ charging) that is..

  • Whynotaztec Whynotaztec on Aug 30, 2018

    I was surprised to hear a little song coming from my Accord hybrid while on battery power. I’m in the US and thought only the Canadian version did that. Anyhow I would prefer the sound of an 8v92.

  • Bkojote Allright, actual person who knows trucks here, the article gets it a bit wrong.First off, the Maverick is not at all comparable to a Tacoma just because they're both Hybrids. Or lemme be blunt, the butch-est non-hybrid Maverick Tremor is suitable for 2/10 difficulty trails, a Trailhunter is for about 5/10 or maybe 6/10, just about the upper end of any stock vehicle you're buying from the factory. Aside from a Sasquatch Bronco or Rubicon Jeep Wrangler you're looking at something you're towing back if you want more capability (or perhaps something you /wish/ you were towing back.)Now, where the real world difference should play out is on the trail, where a lot of low speed crawling usually saps efficiency, especially when loaded to the gills. Real world MPG from a 4Runner is about 12-13mpg, So if this loaded-with-overlander-catalog Trailhunter is still pulling in the 20's - or even 18-19, that's a massive improvement.
  • Lou_BC "That’s expensive for a midsize pickup" All of the "offroad" midsize trucks fall in that 65k USD range. The ZR2 is probably the cheapest ( without Bison option).
  • Lou_BC There are a few in my town. They come out on sunny days. I'd rather spend $29k on a square body Chevy
  • Lou_BC I had a 2010 Ford F150 and 2010 Toyota Sienna. The F150 went through 3 sets of brakes and Sienna 2 sets. Similar mileage and 10 year span.4 sets tires on F150. Truck needed a set of rear shocks and front axle seals. The solenoid in the T-case was replaced under warranty. I replaced a "blend door motor" on heater. Sienna needed a water pump and heater blower both on warranty. One TSB then recall on spare tire cable. Has a limp mode due to an engine sensor failure. At 11 years old I had to replace clutch pack in rear diff F150. My ZR2 diesel at 55,000 km. Needs new tires. Duratrac's worn and chewed up. Needed front end alignment (1st time ever on any truck I've owned).Rear brakes worn out. Left pads were to metal. Chevy rear brakes don't like offroad. Weird "inside out" dents in a few spots rear fenders. Typically GM can't really build an offroad truck issue. They won't warranty. Has fender-well liners. Tore off one rear shock protector. Was cheaper to order from GM warehouse through parts supplier than through Chevy dealer. Lots of squeaks and rattles. Infotainment has crashed a few times. Seat heater modual was on recall. One of those post sale retrofit.Local dealer is horrific. If my son can't service or repair it, I'll drive 120 km to the next town. 1st and last Chevy. Love the drivetrain and suspension. Fit and finish mediocre. Dealer sucks.
  • MaintenanceCosts You expect everything on Amazon and eBay to be fake, but it's a shame to see fake stuff on Summit Racing. Glad they pulled it.
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