By on September 19, 2019

2018 Nissan LEAF SL

What you hear, too. While most electric vehicles emit noises at low speeds to alert pedestrians of their presence, drivers don’t have a say in the sounds emanating from their vehicle. If it came from the factory sounding like a spaceship, that’s something you’ll just have to live with.

Next year is the deadline for full compliance with mandatory low-speed EV noise rules finalized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration early last year, but a proposed amendment shows the feds want drivers to dial up a tune.

No, you probably won’t be able to blast Ride of the Valkyries or the theme from Shaft as you creep through the farmer’s market parking lot, but automakers would be allowed to offer owners a selection of sounds.

The NHTSA’s proposed rule would amend 2016’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 141, Minimum Sound Requirements for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles, adding a key change. The modified rule would “allow manufacturers of hybrid and electric vehicles (HEVs) to install a number of driver-selectable pedestrian alert sounds in each HEV they manufacture.”

A petition preceded the amendment.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt - Image: Chevrolet

“NHTSA is proposing to remove the limit to the number of compliant sounds that a manufacturer may choose to install in a vehicle. Drivers would be able to select the sound they prefer from the set of sounds installed in the vehicle,” the NHTSA stated.

Before the amended rule becomes the law of the land, the agency first wants to hear from the industry and the public. It’s seeking feedback on the rule; specifically, whether it “should establish a limit to the number of compliant sounds” made available to the driver. November 1st marks the end of the comment period.

If comments push the agency in the direction of less regulation, automakers might just offer up a smorgasboard of low-speed noises.

[Images: © 2017 Matthew Guy/TTAC, General Motors]

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54 Comments on “Feds Want to Give EV Drivers a Choice in What They Hear...”


  • avatar

    I looking forward to being able to select a sound file called “Silence”.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Smoke

      EV driver are never silent.
      The car maybe quiet, but they are always talking.
      How they are saving the planet,
      how much money they are saving,
      How green they are,
      …. maybe just roll down the window a little.So we can hear you coming.
      I’d suggest running the full lighting system, as a visual notification? But that would effect battery life and millage.
      Wouldn’t a sound generator use power? Most of my EV friends can’t run the heater because they don’t have enough charge to get to their destination.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Is there some way we can tell the unelected bureaucrats at NHTSA to stop wasting time on this nonsense?

    I wonder what the deaf and hard of hearing lobby thinks about the safety of these dangerous silent electric cars… hint: it’s not a problem!

    Blasting the theme from Shaft does have some merit. The original movie is one of my favorites.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Gonna need an electric Third Gen Camaro that plays Van Halen as it’s engine sound with a fake exhaust pipe spewing Marlboro smoke

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    I refuse to drive any EV that doesn’t sound like Crazy Frog to passers-by.

  • avatar
    retrocrank

    Not every road that allows both pedestrian and automotive access has protected walkways or bikeways. Those on the road on foot or bicycle are made aware of approaching automotive devices (cars, trucks, motorcycles) by sound. As an experienced bicycle commuter, any modern ICEcar can be safely heard approaching (So far no Teslas on my daily commute, although a couple of years ago a Nissan Leaf snuck up on me). I’ve noticed that the noise of most modern automotive transport appliances is tire-induced, so maybe no extra noise maker is needed for EBVs.

    Easy to find out, a simple comparative study between several ICEcars and EBVs comparing dB levels of a converging vehicle would answer the question.

    If EBVs are no quieter than the mean value of perhaps the quietest quartile of ICEcars, there is no need to chase this question further (except by those already frothing, and you know what happens to dogs with rabies).

    If EBVs are in fact quieter, then the question is are they more dangerous to non-car traffic sharing the road. That question is unanswerable because there’s too much emotion, irrationality, and politics to allow an objective test. Therefore, some sort of “soundmaker” would be needed.
    Personally, I’d advocate for the sound of the Ecto-1 Ghostbuster car.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      I respectfully and *fundamentally* disagree.

      The easy way isn’t studying this more- studying this “problem” is a waste of taxpayers’ money and it is a make-work job for people who should otherwise be seeking productive employment that would contribute to the economy.

      The easy way is to ignore this non-problem.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @retrocrank: Have you noticed how many people seem totally deaf to approaching cars? Have you noticed how many of them have their ears plugged with some kind of entertainment?

      Today’s cars, even ICEVs are surprisingly silent. As you and others have mentioned, the tire noise is more audible than their engines in most cases. It make come down to the point that all cars will need to make some kind of manufactured noise just to make themselves heard over that entertainment. And certainly one way to reduce the amount of jaywalking will be to do as seen in Japan and other countries–by putting railings up along the curb with only limited openings at marked crosswalks, for pedestrian safety.

      Personally I agree that any manufactured noise is a ludicrous idea but there are those who fought for such noise in an effort to prevent the rise of electric vehicles. Soon enough, others will complain about the cacophony of sounds disturbing the peace in slow-speed, otherwise quiet neighborhoods. Then what will they do?

      • 0 avatar
        retrocrank

        Vulpine and Jim, I don’t necessarily disagree with your points because as you note, current gas-powered cars are very, very quiet. And if I had to guess, EVs are no quieter. To Jim’s point though, that’s just a guess. It should be easy and quick to test.

        I’ve lived in the most rural Ohio, one of our biggest cities, and now the ‘burbs, so I’ve heard what streets and roads “sound like” in varied environments. I have the driving/building/teaching/restoration/ownership credentials to back up my claim as an “automotive enthusiast.” But for the mundane task of travelling the few miles to and from work, I use a bicycle, and I enjoy hiking – both activities put me on back streets and roads with varied traffic, with no alternative path other than to be on the road. I know first hand that some noise helps me stay safe from inattentive drivers – I can judge closing speed and whether or not the pilot recognizes a non-car on the road, and if needed either take evasive action and/or get my middle finger ready. I didn’t used to pay that much attention until run over by an inattentive aggressive in a Volvo. Now I listen, and believe that people who aren’t driving should pay attention and listen for as long as cars have the de facto right of way on streets and roads. But that also means automotive devices need to have some sort of sound. Not loud sounds, not artificial “warning” sounds (I was kidding about Ecto1). And I’m pretty sure the first time a Tesla approaches at 6:30 am on my way to work on my backroad, I’ll hear it when it’s still 50 yards away. But I’d like to see that tested before either laws are made mandating artificial sounds or the roads are populated with the undetectable approach of an EV.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          I wasn’t aware this was such an issue. Henceforth I will ensure that I always have some Grunge music cranked to maximum volume as a public service. It has to be loud because in almost every instance the chuckle$%ck that walked out in front of me was unaware as to the world around them as they were engrossed in their phone, headphones in. If they can’t here the turbo whine and diverter valve, perhaps Cobain’s wailing vocals will make them look up.

          • 0 avatar
            retrocrank

            Chill out AV…. Just for review, I wrote “people who aren’t driving should pay attention and listen for as long as cars have the de facto right of way”
            Darwin can take care of the inattentive. What the world certainly does not need is yet another bozo sharing his “music” with the rest of humanity. The only exception might be if music were Beethoven VII, but then the world is not worthy of that music so it would be casting pearls to swine.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Hey! Some of these people can’t even hear a train horn 50 feet behind them as they amble along down the railroad tracks. I live very close to a college town and it seems nearly every year there are at least a couple students getting hit by a train, no matter how loud or long the train driver leans on that horn. In every case, they had earbuds stuck in their ears and the volume turned way up.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            @Retrocrank, I disagree. Have you heard the state of music today? I think the world desperately needs some quality music shared with it at high volume and as a Gen-Xer, it just so happens my music is of the absolute highest quality! 1994 is peak music. Boomers and Millennials go ahead and flame on. I’ll read the Boomer rebuttals. Millennial complaints shall fall on deaf ears because, well, you have done some good things (Beer, Food), but your generation’s soundtrack SUCKS!

          • 0 avatar
            retrocrank

            AV-
            Put me down as a Boomer, but my idea of “good music” goes back to a period extending roughly from the Goldberg Variations of 1741 through the Wanderer Fantasy of 1822. There are some exceptions since then, notably Stravinsky, maybe some Wagner, Prokoviev, Thelonius Monk, the Beatles, CSNY, the Who, and the Pretenders; and there are a few other sporadic individual tunes. In my view, nothing worthwhile has been written since I Knew the Bride by Nick Lowe.
            “Beethoven VII” refers to the Seventh Symphony, not a GenX grunge band.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            @Art: Whenever I am stuck beside someone cranking out HipHop, Grunge or other brain numbing music, I turn up as loud as possible the best of all possible counter programming, Bagpipe music.

            Nothing is as diverting. Bagpipes are designed to strike fear into your enemies and to be heard cross country.

            As for your provocative comment regarding which generation has the best music. It is widely accepted that the music that a person prefers is the type of music they were listening to when they had their first sexual encounter(s).

            I would still argue that the music scene circa the late 1950’s to about 1960 is the best of all time. Due to its variety.

            However thankfully I have Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra to listen to while recalling intimate encounters (plus for some reason some Pink Floyd?).

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @Retrocrank: Might I recommend some Rick Wakeman? You might be surprised.

  • avatar
    Blackcloud_9

    I want the ice cream truck tunes. Just to mess with people.

  • avatar
    scott25

    As long as vehicles have tires that are in contact with the ground, they’re not going to be silent.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Does this mean I can blast Final Countdown through external speakers as I cruise through town at 25mph?

    How many of you know the book I’m referencing, here?

  • avatar
    random1

    Engine noise at low speed on some high end luxury cars is close to non-existent. Are we going to impose minimum dB levels at different speeds? Absurd.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      One of the quietest vehicles on the road has to be the Honda Gold Wing. On my bike, that’s the one vehicle I can never hear coming up from behind. I can even hear other cyclists, but not a Gold Wing.

  • avatar
    TR4

    Electric vehicles ARE much quieter at low speeds, say under 25mph or so when tire noise is minimal. I suspect the legislation is intended for vehicles in parking lots, or at intersections or in the city where they slow down below normal driving speeds.

    My mother used to warn me about the electric trolley buses used in Maidstone, England in the early 1960s. They would accelerate from a stop quickly and silently and so were more of a hazard for pedestrians crossing the road than normal ICE buses.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      People are starting to get used to the presence of EVs now, but when I first got our C-Max Energi people would walk right in front of it in parking lots with distressing frequency.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    I would choose an M1 Abrams. If that weren’t available, then a top fuel dragster. Or a J79 on full burner!

  • avatar
    redapple

    Fisker EV had a weird sound track.

    Like the Knight Rider car.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Chevy small block V8.

    Stock exhaust is fine, still sounds pretty good.

  • avatar
    Menar Fromarz

    Studded tires for everyone!

  • avatar
    retrocrank

    Does the new Harley LiveWire have a noisemaker? (can’t imagine that demographic buying a bike that doesn’t exceed the Who in concert at Leeds).

  • avatar
    Rnaboz

    If EV’s need a noise generator, what about the stupid electric scooters? They seem more an issue than people walking in the streets! And yes, get off my lawn!

  • avatar
    cdotson

    I thought we had all long ago decided all EVs had to play a recording of Julius Fucik’s “Entry of the Gladiators” played on the calliope.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    My Chevy Bolt’s spec sheet says it has a noisemaker, but you wouldn’t know it; with the windows down all I hear at low speeds is faint inverter whine.

    On the other hand, a neighbor has an Audi A3 e-tron that makes a very conspicuous space age kind of noise at low speed. It’s louder than a typical ICE car.

    The right answer is probably somewhere in the middle.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Is this the EV equivalent of “Loud Pipes save Lives?

  • avatar
    TR4

    How about the electricy noise of a Jacob’s Ladder, a la old Frankenstein movies?

    Bzzzt, bzzzt, bzzzt.

    This would also let the pedestrian know the driver is doing his bit towards saving the planet.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    I think we had a discussion about audible warnings for pedestrians and the blind awhile back. I’m going to stick with my original suggestion, a recording of Queen playing “Another One Bites The Dust”.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    While this all leads to a bit of amusment for some folks, I can imagine certain circumstances where having different sounds from different BEVs would be helpful. Standing at an intersection, a blind person crossing the street might hear a delivery truck on his right. That truck may be loud enough to mask the right hand turning, nearly silent BEV approaching from behind the pedestrian at least initially. As the BEV with the sound emitter approaches closer, the pedestrian realizes there’s a vehicle behind him as he starts to cross. As they cross, they realize there’s yet another vehicle (because of the different sound it emits) near the curb and they should take note of it, should it move.

    Also, if you’ve ever worked in an “open plan” office, you know how annoying it is to only have two or three ringtones on your desk phone. We have seven people in one area, they could not distinguish correctly whose phone was ringing; the company installed seven lights so they knew whose phone it was. A similar issue with many BEVs in traffic and approaching from different directions, it would help to know which way they were coming and approximate speed.

    But, the sound emitter does little to prevent the idiots who walk through the streets with earbuds or earphones in place. I ride as much as I can in the dry months, and frequently I encounter people on the bike paths or road that are wearing earbuds. They cannot hear my bell, nor can they hear me when I speak: Passing on the left. But, if I go past them quicker than they like, they’re the ones to throw a fit and accuse me of intentionally trying to frighten them. My real favorites are the Darwin Award runners-up that ride bicycles in traffic with earbuds/earphones on.

    Idiots.


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