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Feds Move Towards Requiring Hybrid and Electric Vehicles to Have Noise Generators for Safety

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Electric Vehicle Safety: Avoiding Auto AccidentsTo protect unsuspecting pedestrians, bike riders and the visually impaired, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has taken steps towards requiring hybrid and electric vehicles to have artificial noise generators. The NHTSA, which made the announcement on July 7, was mandated to create the regulations by the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010. Unlike conventional combustion engines, electric motors create virtually no noise at low speeds, and several studies indicate that electric and hybrid vehicles cause more auto accidents for that reason.

As the NHTSA reports:

‘Even as we make giant leaps forward with hybrid and electric vehicles, we must remain laser focused on safety,’ said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.  ‘With more and more quiet vehicles on the road, we have to consider their effect on pedestrians.’

‘America’s streets must be safe for everyone who uses them,’ said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. ‘As we improve the environment with cleaner cars, we must also consider how it affects those on bikes and on foot.’

A transcription of a podcast of David Biello reporting for Scientific American says:

The goal is to give an audio cue, not unlike the beeping associated with the backing up of large trucks. Why? Well, a study led by psychologist Lawrence Rosenblum of the University of California, Riverside found that blindfolded test subjects could hear an internal combustion engine 36 feet away but didn’t hear a hybrid until it was a mere 11 feet away.

That left scant few seconds to react before the hybrid reached them. And that’s not safe.

Once the notice of a proposed rulemaking is published in the Federal Register, the public will have 30 days to submit comments on this NHTSA action. The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 requires NHTSA to write a standard by July 4, 2012 for an alert system that is automatically activated without any action by a driver or pedestrian, the agency said, and a final rule must be published by Jan. 4, 2014.

All vehicles of the same make and model must have the same alert sound, and the rule will include light and low-speed vehicles, motorcycles, buses and heavy-duty trucks. The NHTSA is considering these sounds.

Europe and Japan already have guidelines requiring electric vehicles operating at speeds up to 20 km per hour to make sounds that change in volume or tone depending on the speed of the vehicle. But those guidelines allow drivers to deactivate the sound, a loophole protested by groups representing visually impaired people.

Image by kafka4prez, used under its Creative Commons license.


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