Enjoy the Silence? Green Cars Can Remain Quiet for Another Six Months

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Not every hybrid or electric vehicle motors along at low speeds with only road noise, and perhaps a bit of motor whine, alerting people in its path to its presence. However, under a new rule issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, automakers were told to ensure their vehicles emit a warning noise at speeds of up to 18.6 mph.

The measure was first proposed back in 2010, when hybrids were few and EVs almost non-existent. Moving at the speed of bureaucracy (the Department of Transportation finalized the rules in 2016), the low-speed noise mandate was supposed to finally enter into law last September, but the NHTSA extended the deadline by a year. On Monday, the agency extended it once again.

As reported by Reuters, the NHTSA has pushed the compliance date to March 1st of 2021, and will hear from the public before potentially deciding to tack on an additional six months.

The sudden emergence of the coronavirus pandemic and the development delays resulting from it compelled some automakers, among them General Motors and Toyota, to push for a one-year extension back in April. In a statement, the NHTSA said the six-month delay “strikes a reasonable balance between providing necessary regulatory relief” and the swiftest enactment possible.

As plug-in hybrids proliferate and a wave of new electric vehicle models grows in height just offshore, having all cars in compliance would boost pedestrian safety to some degree. Studies have shown that hybrid vehicles are more likely to strike a pedestrian.

Again, the measure is less of a concern for those companies that fielded warning noises since day one.

While all vehicles that operate in electric mode at low speeds will be required to emit some sort of warning noise, not all noises will be the same. It’s up to the individual automaker to come up with a tone that reaches the vehicle’s waterproof speakers. General Motors debuted its new low-speed warning noise on the ill-fated 2019 Chevrolet Volt; while the automaker said the new sound was more deliberate and more likely to be noticed by people in the area, the automotive symphony struck this listener as unsettling.

[Image: General Motors]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

More by Steph Willems

Join the conversation
4 of 16 comments
  • 3-On-The-Tree Lou_BCsame here I grew up on 2-stroke dirt bikes had a 1985 Yamaha IT200 2-strokes then a 1977 Suzuki GT750 2-stroke 750 streetike fast forward to 2002 as a young flight school Lieutenant I bought a 2002 suzuki Hayabusa 1300 up in Huntsville Alabama. Still have that bike.
  • Milton Rented one for about a month. Very solid EV. Not as fun as my Polestar, but for a go to family car, solid. Practical EV ownership is only made possible with a home charger.
  • J Love mine, but the steering wheel blocks dashboard a bit, can't see turn signals nor headlights icons. They could use the upper corners of the screen for the turn signals. Mileage is much lower than shown too, disappointing
  • Aja8888 NO!
  • OrpheusSail I once did. My first four cars were American made, and through an odd set of circumstances surrounding a divorce, I wound up with a '95 Nissan Maxima which was fourteen years old and had about 150,000 miles on it.It was drove better, had an amazing engine, and was more reliable than any of my American cars. This included a new '95 GMC pickup that went through five alternators in under two years while the dealership insisted that there was no underlying electrical problem while they tried to run the clock on the warranty.That was the end of 'buy American'. I've bought from Honda and VW since, and I'll consider just about anything except American now.