US DOT Proposes New Minimum Sound Requirements for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles

Sections: Car Safety, Chassis, Fuel Economy, Powertrain

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The Ford C-Max Hybrid

Ford says its C-Max Hybrid is the best-selling hybrid at its introduction of any competitive hybrid model and noted that the company expects C-Max Hybrid sales to outpace by more than 40% the combined first three months’ sales of the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight when those models launched in the year 2000. (Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company.)

WASHINGTON – With all the news you hear about the government wanting to reduce sound pollution in our our lives, it’s kind of ironic when the Feds want to make something noisier.

But that’s exactly what the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is proposing so hybrid and electric vehicles will meet requirements of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 (PSEA).

“Safety is our highest priority, and this proposal will help keep everyone using our nation’s streets and roadways safe, whether they are motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians, and especially the blind and visually impaired,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Electric and hybrid vehicles do not rely on traditional gas or diesel-powered engines at low speeds, making them much quieter and their approach difficult to detect. The proposed standard, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 141, would fulfill Congress’ mandate in the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act that hybrid and electric vehicles meet minimum sound requirements so that pedestrians are able to detect the presence, direction and location of these vehicles when they are operating at low speeds.

“Our 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,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.

The sounds would need to be detectable under a wide range of street noises and other ambient background sounds when the vehicle is traveling under 18 miles per hour. At 18 miles per hour and above, vehicles make sufficient noise to allow pedestrians and bicyclists to detect them without added sound. Each automaker would have a significant range of choices about the sounds it chooses for its vehicles, but the characteristics of those sounds would need to meet certain minimum requirements. In addition, each vehicle of the same make and model would need to emit the same sound or set of sounds.

More information on this proposal can be found on the NHTSA website here.

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