NHTSA sets Quiet Car safety standard for new HEVs and EVs to protect pedestrians

Tesla Model S (charged EVs)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will now require all new hybrid and electric light-duty vehicles to emit sounds to help protect pedestrians. The new standard fulfills a law that Congress approved in 2010.

Under the new rule, all electrified vehicles with gross vehicle weight under 10,000 pounds will be required to make an “alert sound” – defined as a sound that enables pedestrians to discern the presence and direction of the vehicle, when traveling at up to 19 mph (at higher speeds, the alert sound is not considered necessary, as tire and wind noise provide adequate audible warning).

The act specifies that the sound must not depend on driver activation. Automakers must provide each vehicle with “one or more sounds” that comply with the standard, and each vehicle of the same make and model must generate “the same sound or set of sounds.” Manufacturers have until September 2019 to comply.

“We all depend on our senses to alert us to possible danger,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “With more quieter hybrid and electric cars on the road, the ability for all pedestrians to hear as well as see the cars becomes an important factor in reducing the risk of possible crashes and improving safety.”

“The full implementation of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 will protect all pedestrians, especially the blind, as well as cyclists,” said Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “This regulation will ensure that blind Americans can continue to travel safely and independently as we work, learn, shop, and engage in all facets of community life.”

Most Americans (sadly, not all) are sensitive to the needs of disabled citizens, but the measure is not without controversy. Some fear that city streets could be polluted by the sort of obnoxious beeping that’s long been a feature of construction sites (as well as some airports).

During a Q&A session back in 2013, Elon Musk proposed a more elegant solution: “I think the sensible and ideal thing long-term is to have proximity sensors that direct a pleasant sound in the direction of where somebody is walking – so therefore, it’s the least amount of noise, and it’s not annoying, and it’s only going to where it needs to go.” Such a system is theoretically possible, thanks to Tesla’s new Enhanced Autopilot sensor suite, but it’s not clear whether it would be allowed under the new rule.


Source: NHTSA via Green Car Congress, Electrek

  • cw

    How about the sound of a HEMI V8 coming from a speaker in the front of the car? Maybe you can even make it “rev up” to warn the pedestrians.

  • WQ @ CeeTech Inc.

    A ugly regulation to a new elegant technology. Hope it will be lifted off after all the old oligarch die.

  • EV_Follower

    This means you cannot drive your EV into the woods and not scare away nature! The potential sound of a traffic jam in a National Park because of EVs travelling below 19mph may make parks rather unpleasant to visit.

  • Lance Pickup

    Cue up the comments from people who seem to have a big problem with EVs emitting ANY kind of noise. I just don’t get it…it’s a safety feature and barely noticeable from inside the cabin of my LEAF. Is it really that big a deal?

    Just today I was inching along in a parking lot as people were walking along with their backs to me and wanting to cut across the aisle to get to the next row. As it was, one of the people walked out into the middle of the lane until he heard me coming at the last moment. Had my car been completely silent, my choices would have been to go along at 2 mph until he got across the aisle or honk my horn at him, which seems like overkill.

    Sure, you can make the point that it is HIS responsibility to ensure no cars are coming before he cuts across, but really, most people simply don’t do that when walking down a long parking lot gradually cutting across the travel lane.

    • nordlyst

      It’s not inside the cabin that there’s a problem. It’s on the balcony near the road where you’re trying to relax where you now have to hear the cars more than ever before.

      I think there are many other areas that can be addressed to better effect. It’s typical that they get fixated on the idea that something changed (cars became more quiet) and try to address that potential worry (so it’s like before) rather than look critically at whether or not it really is an important cause.

      Hopefully we will soon get good enough automatic interventions that regulation like this can be reversed without anyone worrying about it. It’s really stupid to turn one of the major advantages of EVs into a problem.

      • Lance Pickup

        I would like to hear more about this theoretical balcony where vehicles are travelling at less than 19mph and somehow ICE vehicles driving by are already silent and an EV making a subtle whistling or whatever sound is going to completely ruin someone’s relaxation. I do visit my in-laws cabin at a lake where it is very beautiful & peaceful, but occasional car (maybe once every 20-30 minutes) going by is the least of the worries as compared to the motor boats which pass by 1-2 times a minute. Or maybe you are envisioning a less remote setting where more cars may be passing by. Most of the time people’s decks/balconies are at the back of the house and there is no way that you can hear EVs or ICE vehicles driving by in front of the house. Or maybe it’s an apartment and you actually do have a front balcony. My experience there in those kinds of settings is that you have kids and dogs that are making the noise. I am just having a hard time believing that this is a realistic concern.

        As far as automatic interventions go, sure…the car can slow to 2 mph and follow behind a person in a parking lot because they are walking a little too far out into the travel lane because they don’t hear any vehicles near them. This happens ALL the time to me and that’s with an EV that actually DOES make noise. It’s not until I get extremely close to them that they hear me coming and move over.

  • W0QR

    Yea, it is that big of a deal. It’s too noisy NOW without generating artificial sounds that are going to keep people up at night. And when I drive into a park or park in a garage you don’t need the annoyance. And what about hearing impaired? That’s the most common senses disability. Everybody gets it sooner or later. Are we now supposed to shoot laser beams ahead of us to alert those with headphones or deaf ears? Come on. Logic! If you wanted to put a control at the driver’s discretion that in a mall situation would emit a gentle alert, fine. But it should be up to the drivers discretion.

  • Ramon A. Cardona

    I just checked as to pedestrians death and four states: CA, FL, TX and NY account for 46% of deaths mostly of not all by cars making engine noises. It would make more sense to ask the authorities of theses states to look at causes such as speeding, distracted driving, alcohol and drugs, no sidewalks, poor lighting, pedestrian education, etc. Oh, are silent running bikes or electric motorcycles also an issue? I see people stepping onto streets, crossing parking lots, walking on streets or roads eyes glued to smartphones while wearing earphones.

  • Jamez

    Time to Cue up the Jetson sound… someone license that quickly and get it out there. I want my EV to sound like that!!

  • cw

    1. open hood
    2. find device making noise (i.e. speaker)
    3. unplug the device
    4. close hood
    Issue resolved.