US Finalizes Quiet Car Rules That Will Affect EVs and Hybrids

Chevrolet Volt

A new set of federal rules will require quiet cars, like EVs and PHEVs running on battery power, to emit a warning noise at speeds up to 18.6 miles per hour. The rules are an attempt by the US National Highway Transportation Department to reduce the risk of injury to cyclists, pedestrians and the blind that is posed by quiet cars at intersections and while backing up, as the NHTSA estimates that electric vehicles are 19% more likely than gas-powered cars to be involved in a pedestrian crash.

Some automakers are complaining about the new rules, saying that the warning sounds will be loud and complicated to produce, with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers expressing concerns about drivers and passengers being annoyed by the sounds. While NHTSA says the rules will cost the auto industry about $39 million annually, because they will need to make external, waterproof speakers, the organization also states that the benefits in reduced injuries will be $250 million to $320 million annually.

As reported by Auto News, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said “this is a common-sense tool to help pedestrians – especially folks who are blind or have low vision – make their way to safety.”

A quiet ride is one of the many benefits of EVs, so hopefully drivers who spend a lot of time at slow speeds will understand the need for warning noises. While the silence of a battery powered car backing up or driving through a downtown crosswalk is luxurious, it also makes it difficult for nearby pedestrians to know the car is coming, which is a big safety concern. However, it will also be important for automakers and NHTSA to approve and create warning sounds that aren’t annoying to EV drivers.

Importantly, these rules add one more level of uncertainty to how the Trump Administration will treat electric vehicles. NHTSA was supposed to finalize the quiet car rules in 2014, but they were delayed by extended deliberation at the White House, and a Trump Administration could choose to put them back under review.