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NHTSA begins writing electric car noise standards

Consumer Reports News: July 08, 2011 01:58 PM

With more and more quiet hybrids and electric cars hitting the streets, pedestrians, of all people, apparently want them to Make Some Noise!

So the government announced yesterday the first step toward creating regulations that will require hybrids and electric cars to emit some sound under certain conditions to be sure that inattentive or sight-impaired pedestrians can hear them coming.

"As we improve the environment with cleaner cars, we must also consider how it affects those on bikes and on foot," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in making the announcement.

We’ve already seen some cars that emit these artificial sounds, including the Nissan Leaf that we’re currently testing. The Leaf emits a high-pitched whine at low speeds going foward that sounds like the electric motor (even when the motor wouldn’t be making much noise on its own). It doesn’t sound like anything out of the ordinary from inside or outside the car, but we wonder whether it is loud enough that pedestrians really notice it. (In reverse, beeps, though more harmonically than a delivery truck.) On our car, there is a switch on the dashboard that can defeat the sound. But under pressure from The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Nissan is removing the switch in 2012 Leafs, so the sound can’t be disabled.

The new regulation, however, is a long way off. NHTSA has until next July 4th to write the specific standards in the noise regulation, and until January 2014 to publish the final rule (which likely couldn’t take effect for another year after that.) NHTSA will be taking public comments on the proposal for 60 days.

Eric Evarts

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