The federal government is worried that too many pedestrians are stepping into the path of those ultra-quiet electric cars, so a few years down the road those electrics and hybrids will have to announce their presence. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed a new, 230-page rule that specifies what carmakers must do to help visually-impaired pedestrians and those just not paying attention avoid being injured or killed.
At speeds of 18 MPH or less, electric and hybrid vehicles are almost silent, and if there is a lot of traffic noise or other background sounds, the unwary may not realize a car is bearing down on them. Under the regulation, vehicles would have to make some sort of sound that is loud enough to be heard over traffic and the day-to-day din. The sound could be artificial, like those back-up alarms used on commercial vehicles, or amplified noise from the vehicle itself such as motor or tire noise. It's up to the manufacturers to decide which is best for each model. The sound generators and speakers would be required and disabling them would be illegal. The estimated cost per vehicle is about $30.
NHTSA estimates that about 2,800 pedestrians and cyclists are hit each year by a hybrid or electric vehicle they didn't hear. The agency is soliciting public comment for the next two months before making the final rule. Back in 2010, Congress passed a law requiring some sort of alert system be installed in super-quiet cars. Whatever the carmakers come up with, it is worth remembering mother's words of wisdom; "Look both ways before you cross the street."
Source: Crain's New York Business, "Government to require electric cars to make noise," Jan. 7, 2013