"Blind Pedestrian" sign in Florida. Photo by Judy Pokras, used with permission.

Photo by Judy Pokras, used with permission.

In response to a government request, automakers have written to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) saying they want electric and hybrid cars to make a “pleasant” sound that would not annoy drivers or passengers, as Ashley Halsey III writes for The Washington Post. At low speeds, electric and hybrid vehicles can be hard to hear because they do not rely on traditional engines.

As this blog reported back in January, NHTSA proposed a rule requiring electric and hybrid cars to make noise to let pedestrians — especially visually impaired ones — know they are near. The sounds would need to be audible when electric and hybrid vehicles are traveling slower than 18 miles per hour so that bicyclists and pedestrians could hear them coming. The rule would save 35 lives in each model year of hybrid vehicles and would prevent 2,800 injuries.

In the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010, Congress ordered NHTSA to come up with guidelines after hearing from advocates for pedestrians, especially for visually impaired ones. In January 2013, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland asked that car makers find ways to make their vehicles heard, and said the noise needs to be loud enough to be audible over a wide range of street noises and other background sounds.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers, two trade groups comprising Detroit’s big three automakers, Totoya Motoro Corp., Volkswagen AG, and other major Asian and European carmakers believe the sounds NHTSA is requiring would be louder than necessary, would annoy drivers, and would cost too much, David Shepardson writes for The Detroit News.

The automakers have written to NHTSA saying they have not been able to calculate the cost of adding noise to their cars because there is nothing currently available that would meet government expectations, Halsey writes. They suggested cars would need to be redesigned, “which would ‘likely require at least one electronic control unit, two larger speakers, suppliers’ development cost and considerable lead-time.'”

And because the noise-generating systems would probably be electrically powered, they could sap battery power, “thereby reducing the vehicle range and creating additional cost to the consumer,” the automakers wrote in their letter, as Halsey notes.

The automakers further said the rules require sounds that are too complicated and even louder than some high-performance sports cars. “In fact, some sports cars would not be able to pass the tests, the automakers said.” The alliance seeks to meet with NHTSA regulators to discuss the matter.

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