Automakers: Delay, Rewrite 'Quiet Car' Rule For 2014 Hybrid, Electric Cars

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Electric car fans have long been skeptical of government plans to install noisemakers to alert pedestrians to a car's presence--and now automakers are pushing for a different rule.

The NHTSA wants electric and hybrid vehicles to emit a noise at speeds of up to 18.6 mph, while automakers want it to be capped at no more than 12.4 mph.

The current noise regulations would make vehicles running on electric power too noisy--enough for the low-speed sound to be irritating to passengers travelling in the car.

According to The Detroit News, an industry group made up of the Big Three automakers, Volkswagen, Toyota, and several asian and European companies, says the noise levels would be so great under the NHTSA's proposal that some gasoline sports cars wouldn't even pass mandated noise tests at the same speeds.

The group adds that at speeds above 12.4 mph, tire noise becomes dominant anyway, making even the quietest of vehicles more audible.

The regulations would come into force from September 2014, but automakers want the rules to be either changed before then, or to have the phase-in scrapped and deferred to 2018. The NHTSA estimates a per-car cost of around $35, amounting to a cost of $23 million in the first year--though the group of automakers says the actual figure could be five times greater.

Other concerns include the NHTSA's decision for the vehicles to produce a noise at very low speeds or even at a standstill--which creates noise pollution, according to automakers.

Worse still, it could even mask the sound of a traditional car approaching, negating the apparent safety benefits of adding noise to silent cars.

Noisemakers are designed to alert pedestrians and cyclists to the presence of an electric-powered vehicle, which are generally very quiet. The sounds are designed to be distinctive over typical background noise, making them easily identifiable as vehicles.

The NHTSA estimates that the odds of an electric vehicle or hybrid being involved in a pedestrian impact are 19 percent higher than average, and 38 percent higher for a bicycle accident. Tests from around the world have so far been inconclusive on the issue.

It's likely that we'll still have noisemakers fitted to future electric and hybrid vehicles--but the noises those cars make will be hotly debated for some time to come.


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Comments (20)
  1. Whatever the rule is, it should be applied to cars, period. Not just electric cars.

    I would rather see it scrapped unless it can be proven to make things safer.

  2. Exactly. Why penalize electric drive? Many gas engine luxury cars are also very quiet at low speeds.

    By the way, the Volt comes standard with a pedestrian alert button on the end of the turn signal lever. It makes a chirping sound, much more friendly than honking the horn. I sometimes use in Manhattan to alert people expecting to hear an engine.

  3. I agree that any noise standard should be applied across the board. I've heard from friends who have been bumped by hybrids backing out of parking spaces, and I like the back-up noise on my 2013 Leaf very much. I'm even considering installing my own forward-going noisemaker that I can switch on when navigating crowded lots so people know I'm there. But forward-going noise requirements should be distinct from back-up noise standards--it's a different scenario with better driver visibility. Any forward-going noise should have a "disable" switch (like traction control), and have several sound options so that buyers don't pass on a car simply because they dislike its noise.

  4. According to the LAW, hybrids are included.

    And you can't disable it, or change it.

    Thank you John Kerry for this wonderful piece of legislature, and thank you Congress for passing it, and thank you Obama for signing it into law, ALL WITHOUT ANY STUDY TO IT'S NEED OR EFFICACY.

  5. Noise is a form of pollution just like exhaust pollution and until there is a problem i.e. "accidents" I can't see a reason to address it. If you go down this route maybe we should adddress if we should get out of bed each day for fear we might be hurt or killed. Crazy World we live in today.

  6. Maybe we should ban people from focusing on their phones while walking and biking or outlaw loud music playing in their earphones while they are biking...

  7. I think Mayor Bloomberg is on it. Listening to music will be prohibited in the finest Taliban tradition, and everyone will be required to wear helmet and knee pads as soon as they step out of bed in the morning. All food except for tofu and rice cakes will be strictly prohibited.

  8. If I could ban stupidity, I would... But I can't.

    When will people take their own responsbility of watching where they are going...

    That is right, they don't. They focus on their stupid phones...

  9. I sure hope you understand the difference between enjoying music and riding without paying attention.

    Maybe you are just trying to be some kind of "rear end"...

  10. It is the driving without paying attention that causes far more accidents than riding without paying attention.

  11. In this case, we are talking about a car being too quiet when it is driven by an attentive driver but it still manages to be too quiet for the unattentive public...

  12. I've had people almost walk into the side of an old VW diesel with a hole in the muffler while it was sitting still rattling like a gorilla with a can of rocks.

    I think it would be better to invest in an awareness campaign for both pedestrians and motorists. If we end up with these noise makers on cars liability will shift as to who is responsible in an auto vs pedestrian accident possibility to the manufacturer. "The car wasn't loud enough."

    In a typical urban environment there is so much background noise most can't hear individual cars above the din unless they are particularly loud to the point of making everyone uncomfortable (ever see a Civic with a stovepipe for a tailpipe?)

  13. This is ass backwards. The problem is not that EVs are quiet, the real problem is that ICE vehicles are noisy. The real reason a person may not hear an electric car is all the ambient noise on the street generated by gas and diesel vehicles.

    So, the solution is to make other cars more noisy and intrusive? This is absurd.

  14. A bit like speed bumps...instead of punishing the speeders punish the drivers within the speed limit forever more.

  15. They have a higher speed bumps now where a slow speed won't impact the car much, but if you drive over certain speed, you will be sure to get a jolt out of it... :)

    Its shape is much wider than a typical speed bump and slightly higher.

  16. If this becomes law, I will try to drive above 18.6 MPH at all times, refusing to slow down below that limit so as to avoid having to make an embarrassment out of myself. It will cause some accidents from time to time -- unintended consequence -- but at least I will have minimized emitting some annoying noise.

  17. Why stop here? Let us outlaw quiet bicycles too. Make them loud as well...

    Some crazy bicycle rider just killed a pedestrian (he was legally in a crosswalk crossing at the light) in SF. Maybe we should make the bicycle louder as well...

    How about electric bikes? Electric buses? What about subway trains?

  18. That's a really interesting point - the ONLY accident I've ever had involving a pedestrian was when one stept off the curb years ago, in front of my bike. That was on a busy, noisy road.

  19. Why wouldn't this rule apply to ALL cars? Safety is safety and noise level is noise level, no matter what you are driving. Why not just put a horn on all cars that can warn others? Oh, your kidding, all cars do have horns? Why not make it against the law for a car to hit someone? Or, your kidding, we have that law. Why not teach bicycle and pedestrian safety? I git hit by a bike once and was injured. But we still don't have noise makers on bikes and there are way more of them than EVs. Stupid is as stupid does.

  20. I purchased a 2012 Camry hybrid, primarily because it’s very quiet, not because it got a few more miles per gallon than a conventional gas engine model. A built in noisemaker in all future electrics and hybrids will definitely be a deal breaker for me when it comes time to replace my current hybrid. Looks like my next replacement car will once again be powered by a conventional gas engine.

    What an amazingly simple way to kill off a fledgling industry. Score one for big oil. Apparently the regulators in US DOT are not at all concerned that noise pollution is a major health threat and a leading cause of stress and high blood pressure, which have been implicated in thousands of deaths from strokes & heart attacks annually in the US.

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