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US proposal on EV noise standards

08 January 2013

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The silence of EVs has been raised as a safety issue by associations representing visually impaired/disabled people and cyclists associations. To address these issues, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released on 7 January 2013 a proposal on noise creation for EVs, commissioned by the Congress three years ago.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), adding noise to EVs for speeds 0-30km/h would prevent about 2,800 injuries over the life of each model year of vehicles.

Speakers & costs

According to NHTSA, adding the needed speaker system would increase the cost of manufacturing a car or light truck by about $30 (€22,86), or $23,5 million (€17,91 million) for the whole industry in 2016.

Beyond the cost of those components, the added weight would increase fuel costs by about $5 (€3,81) over the lifetime of a light vehicle, NHTSA says. That, combined with the $30 (€22,86) in components, means the total cost of a vehicle would increase by about $35 (€26,67).

Requirement or Recommendation?

To meet the requirements, automakers would need to add speakers that are audible from the street, but still protected from the elements. Nissan, Toyota, Chevrolet, Ford already did that with their EVs, but with the possibility of removing this feature, except for Toyota as advocates for the blind and the elderly have insisted is necessary.

Under the current proposal, drivers would not be able to deactivate the warning sound while a vehicle is in motion, which NHTSA says "would compromise pedestrian safety."

However, it is not clear yet in the proposal whether vehicles would be required to make noise while idle.

The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act (PSEA)

The establishment of “Minimum Sound Requirements for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles” is a requirement under the PSEA of 2010. To meet this standard would require hybrid and electric passenger cars, LTVs, medium and heavy duty trucks and buses, LSVs, and motorcycles to produce sounds.

The PSEA requires NHTSA to establish performance requirements for an alert sound that is recognisable as motor vehicle in operation that allows blind and other pedestrians to reasonably detect a nearby BEV or HEV operating below the crossover speed (at which tire noise, wind noise, and other factors eliminate the need for a separate alert sound).

This proposed standard applies to BEVs and to any HEV capable of propulsion in any forward or reverse gear without the vehicle’s ICE operating.


Jean-Charles Jacquemin

University of Namur (FUNDP) & ICHEC Brussels
This question of minimum noise requirement is much ado about nothing. Like other EV owners, on the 12,000 miles (19.000km) that I have done with my Ampera (always in pure EV mode in cities and villages) I NEVER had to use my horn nor to urgently brake because of a pedestrian or a cyclist not hearing my arrival.

I have to be careful as a driver and as a pedestrian I also had to be careful. Adding noise to EVs, is adding pollution in the neighborhoods while we know that noise pollution kills by increasing the stress. It is also adding costs for all EV users while this is useless.

Do the laws ask cyclists to make noise ? They are also very dangerous when they are numerous and drive at high speeds (see the streets of Rotterdam or Amsterdam).

As you understand, I find this regulation unnecessarly discriminatory against EVs.

Ampera 14636
added 2013-01-08 17:06:54
Thomas Gromeier
Adding noise to EV's is fossil fuel induced perverted thinking.
Pierre Wattré
Forcing automakers to include a low-noise horn is in my opinion a good idea, especially in parkings to be able to warn people without scaring them, but making it mandatory for drivers to use it and not being able to switch it off might be a little bit too much.
Glenn Green
Pierre - a reverse warning is fine, but a slow speed warning is a bit much. I agree with Jean-Charles, will laws now have to ask cyclists to imitate an engine while cycling? A bicycle has a bell, a car a horn for the purpose of warning. Does the NHTSA have the statistics for the number of people hit by a Prius due to the lack of sound because the car is driving on the battery at that moment?
Pierre Wattré
I agree with you Glenn, slow speed warning is a bit much, i am more in favor of a low-noise horn, different from the typical and default horn, to make it less surprising for pedestrians. What is a big surprise for me is the 2,800 injuries data. I really wonder where it came from, especially because i receive different feedback from EV drivers, who said to me that they know they are silent at low speed and they adapt their driving behavior by being more careful.

Michel Bayings

"According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), adding noise to EVs for speeds 0-30km/h would prevent about 2,800 injuries over the life of each model year of vehicles."

I never ever heard of any injury caused by an EV because the victim did not hear the car. Would like to see prove of this statement made by NHTSA.

If if if (and I hope they will never) they require a noise, it should be done on all cars with some kind of electric power, even if it is just for enough for 2 km pure electric.

And I suggest a big horn when a car is switched to the rear gear, like the trucks.

If they want to do something for safety they should require pedestrian warnings IN the car for the driver instead outside the car, like done with the rear sensors. That is a usefull requirement for ALL cars.

It may be clear that I totally agree with the comment of Thomas Gromeier.
added 2013-01-08 22:02:17
Pierre Wattré
Yes, and what about start-stop systems then... Because it is not yet clear if they will also require noise during idling, meaning most ICEs in US will soon need to comply with this regulation because of the start-stop system.

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