Congress Suggests Electric Vehicles Are Too Quiet

December 23, 2010, 10:28 AM HST
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When most people think of automotive noise they think of loud stereo systems, aftermarket exhausts or the sound of cars zipping on the freeway at highway speeds, but Congress is concerned new cars may be too quiet.

A new bill passed by both the House and Senate has called for a new regulation on electric vehicles, one that would require that every new car reach a certain noise threshold.  Congress sees new, quiet electric vehicles as a danger to pedestrians, particularly those who are blind or generally hard of hearing.

Both major automotive groups worked with groups representing the blind to get the bill passed.  As written, the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency would be required to set a minimum noise level for hybrid and electric vehicles.  The NHTSA would have 18 months to prepare the new rules.

Data from a 2009 NHTSA report found demonstrated that drivers of hybrid vehicles were more than twice as likely to be involved with pedestrian accidents at low speeds than were drivers of gasoline engined automobiles.  Most frequently, these accidents occurred when vehicles were slowing down, stopping, or backing in or out to a parking space.

The NHTSA suggests that speeds below 20 miles per hour are the most unsafe.  At speeds greater than 20 miles per hour, air and tire noise compensates for the lack of engine noise.  The bill will fund new studies into car noise and allow the NHTSA full flexibility in determining an appropriate noise level.

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Both Nissan and General Motors have already included a noisemaker on their new vehicles.  The all-electric Nissan Leaf automatically produces a chirping noise at low speeds.  The General Motors Volt, an electric-gasoline car, offers drivers the option to turn on a similar chirping device.  Under the bill, noisemakers will have to be automatic, turning on when the car isn’t producing enough noise of its own.

The rules will be in effect for both all-electric, plug-in hybrid, and hybrid automobiles.  One out of every nine motor vehicle fatalities in the United States occurs from a car striking a pedestrian.

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