Following up to the 2010 Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act (PSEA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed establishing a federal motor vehicle safety standard that would set the minimum sound requirements for electric and hybrid vehicles.
The rule applies to EVs and hybrids that have an electric-only propulsion mode whether they are cars, light trucks, heavy-duty trucks, buses or motorcycles.
According to the NHTSA, the new standard will ensure blind, visually-impaired and other pedestrians will detect the presence of the aforementioned vehicles due to the acoustic signal that will be emitted from them and be clearly identified as coming from a motorized vehicle.
The agency estimates that this proposal will result in 2,800 less injuries and saving 35 lives.
"Our proposal would allow manufacturers the flexibility to design different sounds for different makes and models while still providing an opportunity for pedestrians, bicyclists and the visually impaired to detect and recognize a vehicle", said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.
Starting from 2012 model year cars, all versions of the Toyota Prius that are sold in the U.S. automatically emit a whirring sound at speeds below 15 mph (25 km/h). Nissan’s all-electric Leaf has a warning system that operates up to 18 mph (29 km/h) but unlike that in the Prius, it can be deactivated at a push of a button. The 2013 Chevrolet Volt, on the other hand, does not have an automatic sound-emitting system but it lets the driver activate it out of his own accord.
Under the new rules sound systems, which are expected to add nearly US$30 to the cost of each vehicle, will operate automatically and not have a deactivation capability as that would compromise pedestrian safety.
A study conducted in 2011 by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) showed that hybrids are 20 percent more likely to be involved in an accident with a pedestrian than their conventional-powered versions.
“We have been working closely with the blind community and NHTSA on this issue for several years and are continuing to do so to achieve a balanced and effective rule”, Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers told Autonews. She added, though, that the proposal is still being reviewed by the manufacturers.
Comments on the proposal can be submitted during a 60-day period after the date of its publication in the Federal Register.
By Andrew Tsaousis