By on August 31, 2020

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]

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