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Automakers say 'quiet car' rule makes electric vehicles too loud

Trade groups say a federal requirement could cause some EVs to be louder than sports cars.

By Douglas Newcomb Mar 20, 2013 11:10AM

Tesla Model S. Photo by Tesla.The federal government wants electric vehicles and other electrified cars such as hybrids to make noise to alert pedestrians, bicyclists and the blind to their presence to prevent collisions. But automakers say that the “quiet car” rule would make these vehicles too loud.

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposal sets minimum sound levels for what some have called “silent killer” cars. But two trade groups that represent most major automakers say that the proposed rule would require sounds "that are too loud and too complicated," and would make the vehicles louder than some sports cars.

In a joint statement to NHTSA, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers contend that if the rule is “implemented as proposed, it would result in alert sounds that are louder than necessary, create driver and occupant annoyance and cost more than necessary.” They added that even some gasoline-powered sports cars would not be able to pass the tests.

The quiet-car rule is scheduled to begin in September 2014. Automakers contend that this timetable “is not possible” and have asked NHTSA to revise the rule before issuing a final regulation. If NHTSA can’t change the rule, automakers want to delay the phase-in until 2018.

Automakers point out that no vehicles currently meet the requirements and that they are considering reprogramming existing control modules to create alerts to make the required sounds. The federal rule stipulates that the characteristics of the sounds must meet certain minimum requirements but allows automakers to choose a range of sounds. The rule also requires vehicles of the same make and model to emit the same sound or set of sounds.

NHTSA estimates that the quiet-car rule will cost the auto industry about $23 million the first year and expects the additional per-vehicle cost to be $35. Automakers countered that the costs of components could be five times as high as NHTSA estimates. Automakers such as Audi have already devoted considerable R&D to create sounds for their EVs, and they argue that the new systems will take time to develop and certify.

The sounds would have to be able to be heard over street and background sounds when the vehicle is traveling at low speeds. NHTSA has proposed that the rule apply to speeds up to 18.6 mph, but automakers want the rules to apply to speeds of 12.4 mph or lower. They added that tire noise would interfere with alert sounds above 12.4 mph.

According to NHTSA, the odds of a hybrid vehicle being involved in a pedestrian crash are 19 percent higher compared with traditional gas- or diesel-powered vehicles, and for a car-bicycle crash it's 38 percent higher.

NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said in January that the current "proposal would allow manufacturers the flexibility to design different sounds for different makes and models while still providing an opportunity for pedestrians, bicyclists and the visually impaired to detect and recognize a vehicle and make a decision about whether it is safe to cross the street."

[Source: The Detroit News]

Mar 20, 2013 4:03PM
Here's a thought... Why not have pedestrians quit texting and look where they're going? While we're at it we could inform bicyclists that, contrary to what they currently seem to think, they don't own the damn road, so watch where they're going too, and quit expecting everyone else to get out of their way! Problem solved.
Mar 20, 2013 4:17PM

Oh, now we are being stupid. Deaf people use their eyes. Blind people use their guide animals. The rest of the people need to use their brains.The reason the world is in such a mess, we pamper the idiots in society.

Mar 20, 2013 3:52PM
How about the sound of playing cards in the spokes?
Mar 20, 2013 3:51PM
How about Being aware with your surroundings and get Of the Texting - IDIOTS
Mar 20, 2013 4:20PM
Let the roads be silent for the first time in over a hundred years and let natural selection deal with the pedestrians.
Mar 20, 2013 4:03PM
I personally think that those terrible halogen lights they've been putting in headlights are more dangerous. Every time I see one in my rearview mirror or driving towards me at night, I am momentarialy blinded.
Mar 20, 2013 3:53PM
Purposely adding noise to cars but these same people complain about loud motorcycles. Start explaining to people to look before stepping out in traffic or a crosswalk. More BS to protect the stupid. Did the ever think it may not just be the lack of noise but also the lack of size that influences the higher rate of accidents
Mar 20, 2013 3:44PM
Mar 20, 2013 3:49PM

I want an electric car that plays music to let everyone know I'm there. How about "Ride of the Valkyries"? That should get everyone out of the way. Or maybe "Radar Love".


How about a selection from my mp3 player? I could have a play list for my every mood.

Mar 20, 2013 4:22PM

When is the gov't going to STFU and stop making stupid regulations. Don't they have more pressing matters?

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