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“Quiet Car Rule” Proposed To Protect Pedestrians From Silent Electric Vehicles


Electric cars have been in the news a lot recently, with many heralding the commercial success of hybrids such as the Toyota Prius and the impressive sales of the fully electric Tesla Model S. Though the growing popularity of such electric cars is a good thing for the environment, the cars pose potentially serious hazards to pedestrians due to their silence, something the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed a regulation to address.

The problem with electric cars is that the engines, especially at low speeds, are nearly silent, making it difficult if not impossible for pedestrians to detect. Electric cars have been shown to catch pedestrians and bicyclists off guard when driving at speeds less than 18 miles per hour.

The NHTSA conducted a study in 2011 about the issue and discovered that electric vehicles are twice as likely to lead to accidents while backing up or coming to a stop than those vehicles with gasoline engines. To combat the problem, the agency has created a proposed “quiet car rule” that they hope will save lives.

The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act requires that the Department of Transportation develop a rule addressing the issue, something that is currently being debated between regulators and car companies. The current proposal says that all electric and hybrid vehicles will be required to emit a quiet noise at speeds up to 18.6 miles per hour. Carmakers want the speed capped at 12.4 miles per hour.

A group made up of nearly every major automakers has been actively lobbying against the quiet car rule, saying that under the NHTSA’s proposal, the noise emitted by the vehicles at low speeds would be so loud that passengers in the cars might be disturbed. The group claims that at speeds above 12.4 miles per hour the tire noise is loud enough that passengers would be alerted to the presence of even the quietest cars.

Currently, the regulations are scheduled to come into effect in September of 2014, but the auto industry is campaigning aggressively to have the rules either changed or have the phase-in delayed until 2018. The NHTSA says that the changes will have a minimal financial impact, costing only $35 per vehicle.

The NHTSA says that the regulations represent an important step towards protecting unsuspecting pedestrians from the dangers of electric cars. According to the agency, the quiet car rue would save 35 lives and prevent 2,800 pedestrian/bicyclist injuries every year. Given the relatively minor cost, the decision seems like an easy one. We can only hope that regulators succeed in their attempts to implement the new measures.



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  1. mark says:
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    My 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid already emits an audible noise when operating at slow speeds on battery only, although I don’t know at what speed the noise quits as the tire noise on the pavement is usually quite audible by 10-15 mph.

  2. JoeS. says:
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    How ludicrous to have a rule specifying electric or hybrid vehicles, when many infernal combustion engine vehicles are virtually silent! Ignoring the fact that this regulation further increases our everyday-life noise pollution, if we have to have such a regulation then it should simply mandate that a certain db-level be emitted by ALL vehicles.

    As the owner of a number of wonderfully-silent electric vehicles, separate from my vehicles’ regular horn I also have a unique non-frightening noisemaker which I occasionally need to activate on clueless texting parking-lot pedestrians. I find my regular horn and this pleasant driver-originated noise sufficient to cover all my driving scenarios. I would abhor forcing my neighbors to put up with a noisy suburban late-night arrival in my electric car in an otherwise-silent environment.

  3. Richard says:
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    Silent bicyclists have used a little bell, only when needed, for over a century. I have a modest-loudness electric bell in my electric car, which works fine. There is NO NEED to put automatic noise-makers on either bicycles or electric cars.