Published on August 5th, 2014 | by Important Media Cross-Post


Auto Manufacturers: Hold-Off On The EV Noise Requirements

August 5th, 2014 by  

Gas 2
By Steve Hanley

electric car noises

Back in 2010, Congress directed the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHSTA) to create rules requiring noise generating devices on EVs, PHEVs, and hybrids while operating on electric power. Studies conducted at the time had suggested that such cars were so quiet that they represent a danger to pedestrians, especially the blind. In fact, the National Federation For The Blind was one of the primary groups urging Congress to act. Final rules regulating EV noises were supposed to be issued in January, 2014 but have been delayed several times, already, pushing back the appearance of the proposed noise-making devices until 2016.

Now, however, several automakers are claiming that they simply cannot comply with that deadline because NHTSA dropped the ball by missing the deadline for finalizing the rules. They also complain the devices will cost many times more than the $35 per car the government estimates.

According to The Detroit Newsthe Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automaker have jointly urged the NHTSA to postpone full compliance until September 1, 2018, partly because the final rules have yet to be published but also because:

It is apparent that there remains a great deal of uncertainty as to the content of the final requirements. (The proposed rules of January 2013) would result in alert sounds that are louder than necessary, create driver and occupant annoyance and cost more than necessary.

Until the NHTSA rules regarding EV noise are finalized, manufacturers can’t know whether all EVs, PHEVs, and hybrids must have the same sound, or even whether such devices will be required to operate automatically, as in the Nissan LEAF, or under driver control, as they are in the current Chevy Volt.

I fully understand why pedestrians should need some help in identifying when a car operating solely on electric power is in the area. I bought a Prius in 2007 and was driving slowly on a side street when a man suddenly stepped off a curb and crossed right in front of me. I blew my horn, which startled him. We exchanged pleasantries accompanied by a few well known hand gestures. Then he yelled at me “They ought to make you tie a cow bell on that thing!” He was neither blind, nor blind drunk. He was simply someone caught off guard by my silent approach – so, yeah. I get it. Still, I find the government’s approach to be wrong headed.

Way back at the beginning of the automobile era, many cities passed laws requiring a person to walk in front of a car ringing a bell to warn law-abiding citizens that a vehicle was approaching. It was a dumb idea then, and it’s an even dumber idea now, after generations of “look both ways”.

The American government, it appears, is proposing a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem. Instead of urban vehicles mooing, chiming and chirping their way down city streets, why not develop a smart phone app that notifies pedestrians when an EV, PHEV or hybrid car is in the area? If it works for Uber, it should work for anyone, including blind and deaf pedestrians, right? Am I wrong? Let me know what you think in the comments section, below.

Source: Green Car Reports.

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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  • Sanny

    The smartphone idea is stupid – not everyone has smart phones, or wants them, and not everybody should have to install an app to have an extra measure of safety.

    Why do the devices to emit noise cost so much, though?

  • Wayne Williamson

    Interesting, I walk my neighborhood every day and I can always hear tire noise. Quite a few gas cars almost have no engine noise either. Are they going to be required on them also.

    • Volt Owner

      Ahh, someone that sees the forest for the trees. My Volt is quieter than a lot of cars, but not all of them. Gliding through a parking lot you really just need to be aware of distracted drivers and pedestrians alike. I like having the noise button to give them a heads up, but having it on all the time would just mean it eventually gets ignored.

      And, no, the idiots that wrote the law specified electrified vehicles rather than a specific low noise level that would need to have such noisemakers. Seems like an obvious attempt at adding cost to the competition to me.

      • Randall Mathews

        Here in Oz we have mandatory reversing beepers on trucks, and those that irritate tend to get a screwdriver through them, which turns them into an athsmatic wheeze, still effective.

        • Bob_Wallace

          The Toyota Prius has a backup beeper. It’s too loud in a quite confined space (not-busy parking garage).

          We can devise acceptable warning systems. Something that adjusts to ambient noise levels. Something that is tied into the collision avoidance systems we’ll be getting in our cars. When a problem (warm body) is detected in range then the volume can rise. Especially if the body is moving on a collision course with the EV.

          A few beeps when the vehicle begins to move forward or reverses. An acceptable “hum” when the car speed is low. Perhaps no hum when in stop and go traffic. A danger-rated beeping when closing on a ‘soft target’.

  • NRG4All

    Both my 2011 and 2014 LEAF have a noise maker at low speeds. It goes away when the car is on the road. I don’t understand how the auto industry says it would cost too much.

    • Bob_Wallace

      The cost would be very small dollars. A small not-loud “horn” in the front and one in the back that is activated at low speeds.

      One can buy a basic horn for under $5 retail. The car already has the smarts to pulse it.

      • Randall Mathews

        The noise pollution prospect is horrifying for those of us of a musical bent. Tune them.

        • Bob_Wallace


          generic for a small device that emits a sound

          • Randall Mathews

            “Horn”: generic for a resonant musical cone, highly developed for pleasing tone.
            Car horns tend to be for noise rather than music, and in multiples will tend to produce cacophony, which even if it is quiet, is still unnecessary. With a little forethought we could have soothing harmony, if we have to make sound with a quiet machine. Imagine thousands of us.

          • Bob_Wallace
          • Randall Mathews

            Awesome! One could have real presence. A bit of amplitude modulation would be necessary. Slowing down the air pressure wouldn’t be hard, but the reeds would need replacing…
            Sadly, they don’t ship to Brisbane.

  • Offgridman

    Have to wonder if this is actually a problem with implementing the noise makers or just part of the industries general malaise in bringing EV’s to mass production?
    Much more suspicious that the later is true seeing as how some of the auto makers producing EV’s are including the sounds already.
    And for my contribution as to what should actually be heard, let them all sound like ice-cream trucks. The kids in the US need the extra exercise of running to find out which are the real trucks or not before getting the reward of even more sugar in their diets.

    • Volt Owner

      General malaise would be preferred to this, I consider it to be an attack on the whole concept of electric vehicles by the fossil fuel lobby.

      At the time this was being discussed, a lot of people pointed out to the lawmakers that there were a lot of ICE cars that were actually quieter than a Hybrid or an EV (Rolls Royce anyone?), and that the standard really should be based on the actual dB level of a car, not it’s propulsion system. These constructive comments were ignored in favor of discrimination against electricity.

  • No way

    If this ever becomes the law where I live I will either cut the cord to the speakers or put my own sound making it sound like an ambulance.
    What’s wrong with silence or hearing the birds sing?

    • Steve Grinwis

      Oh no, your car might sound cool?

      Trust me, a quiet electric whine is a beautiful sound, and stops people from thinking your gasoline car is quiet. It’s only on at low speeds, and adds electric car cache.

      • No way

        My car will sound cool with sirens….

        I’d rather have a fake tailpipe and a smoke machine.
        *throwing my toys out of the pram*

  • tibi stibi

    i think it would be best to have a second horn with a much nicer sound. a little warning sound, and the usual horn for the watch-out sound.

    • Volt Owner

      My Volt already has that. Still kinda loud, but it is lots softer than the real horn. And it’s cheap ’cause it’s just software to modulate the horn into a sort of chirp. They did add a button just for it on the later models, but my ’11 has it on the dimmer stalk. Flash the brights and get the little chirp, up to 40, then it’s just lights.

      • tibi stibi


  • StefanoR99

    It’s OK as long as the noise doesn’t travel more than a few feet from the car and turns off when tyre noise is loud enough. It should also be standardized to ensure that the sounds don’t make walking along the pavement an unpleasant experience. The EV has the potential to completely revolutionise city living in terms of environment. Exciting times.

    • Randall Mathews

      This makes sense, to turn off when tyre noise is loud enough, but I do hope they are never compulsory. Better and cheaper to issue blind people with sonar units. The general population will learn to look instead of just listening, and then they’ll stop stepping out in front of us cyclists. Oh wait, I’m supposed to ring my bell. Go feet first recumbent and it’s tempting to just stick the cog into them, but self preservation takes over and one swerves if there is time. The grease tattoo is natty.

  • DGW

    Pedestrians aren’t required to wear taps on their shoes so other people don’t accidentally walk into them.
    People need to look up from their phones and pay attention to the world moving about them. And a quieter world is a most beautiful thing.

    • Randall Mathews

      Here is an opportunity to fill the urban world with music instead of noise. We co-ordinate and synchronize all evs, and get Brian Eno to design the sounds. Trucks and buses are the bass lines, vans the baritone, cars tenor, light urban road vehicles (LURVs), treble, motorbikes alto, and bicycles soprano. Drivers can turn down to nearly off to suit their sanity, and people who can’t look will get the picture….

  • spec9

    Jetsons noise or nothing!

    • patb2009

      horse hoofs

  • Matt

    They should play a little song. You can pick like on your cell phone ring. You could download old TV theme songs! I’m thing “Mr Ed”

    • Steve Grinwis

      I want to be able to program it to make a 1960’s muscle car growl. It would confuse everyone.

      • Randall Mathews

        Quadruple radial engines…

    • Bob_Wallace

      Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer


      I Heard a Crash on the Highway, but I Didn’t Hear Nobody Pray….

    • Calamity_Jean

      The Monkees theme song! “Here we come, walkin’ down the street…”

  • Steve Grinwis

    My car has one such dreaded noise emitting device.

    It is described as ‘giving a very Fifth Element (Movie) like electric hum’.

    I don’t really see the issue. Having your EV make cool noises? Seems like a feature. It’s barely audible inside the cabin.

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