The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed a minimum sound standard for electric and hybrid vehicles to help reduce pedestrian fatalities.
Electric and hybrid vehicles are very different than their gas-only counterparts in that they are virtually silent at low speeds, but such quiet operation makes it difficult for pedestrians (and those who are visually impaired) to detect an approaching vehicle.
Part of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010, the proposal would require these "quiet" vehicles meet a minimum sound requirement when they travel under 18 miles per hour. (Above that speed, there is sufficient noise.) Automakers can determine the sounds they want, but the characteristics would need to meet the new regulation. Also, vehicles of the same make and model must emit the same sound.
NHTSA estimates this proposal could prevent thousands of injuries per year.
In a Consumer Reports survey last January, 40 percent of respondents said pedestrian safety due to silent operation was a concern for electric and plug-in hybrid cars. This move promises to increase pedestrian safety with the growing number of electrified cars, and it may also bring some character to them, if manufacturers get creative with the sounds.
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