NHTSA Delays Requirements For Electrified Vehicle Alert Sounds

With the development of near-noiseless electrified vehicles, lawmakers have called for pedestrian alert systems, but a federal rule that was supposed to take effect in 2018 will be delayed.

For drivers behind the wheel of a hybrid or electric car, the quiet motor is peaceful. But proponents of the law say it has proven dangerous to pedestrians and bicyclists. The issue was illustrated in an episode of The Office, when a bitter salesman used his stealthy Prius to sneak up on his rival, pinning the man against a hedge.

Urged following concerns from as far back as 2003 by the National Federation of the Blind when primarily hybrids and not EVs were in question, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began delving into this issue in 2008. Its subsequent studies revealed that the rate of pedestrian crashes were significantly higher for hybrid and electric cars.

Two years later, Congress passed the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 (PSEA), which gave NHTSA the task of creating a new regulation for vehicle noise. Called “Minimum Sound Requirements for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles,” NHTSA was to publish final rules by Jan. 4, 2014 with full compliance by automakers due no later than Sept. 1, 2018.

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NHTSA’s report states:

“As required by the PSEA, this rule proposes to establish FMVSS No.141, Minimum Sound Requirements for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles, which would require hybrid and electric passenger cars, LTVs, medium and heavy duty trucks and buses, LSVs, and motorcycles to produce sounds meeting the requirements of this standard.

This proposed standard applies to EVs and to those HVs [hybrids] that are capable of propulsion in any forward or reverse gear without the vehicle’s ICE operating.

The PSEA requires NHTSA to establish performance requirements for an alert sound that is recognizable as motor vehicle in operation that allows blind and other pedestrians to reasonably detect a nearby EV or HV operating below the crossover speed.

The crossover speed is the speed at which tire noise, wind noise, and other factors eliminate the need for a separate alert sound.

The PSEA defines ‘alert sound’ as ‘a vehicle-emitted sound to enable pedestrians to discern vehicle presence, direction, location and operation.'”

Estimating that 4.1-percent of cars on the road are hybrid and electric vehicles, NHTSA says that vehicle alert sounds will prevent approximately 2,800 pedestrian and pedalcyclist injuries.

NHTSA hasn’t announced a new compliance deadline, though some automakers have already developed and implemented their own alert systems. The Nissan Leaf uses Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians, Toyota and Lexus have the Vehicle Proximity Notification System, and the Chevrolet Volt features a driver-activated sound.