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