US DOT Finally Finalizes Low-Speed Noise Maker Rules For EVs

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After years of delays, the US Department of Transportation has now finally released the finalized rules relating to the requirement for ultra-quiet vehicles (EVs) to emit artificial noises when traveling at low-speeds as a means of preventing pedestrian injury.

Accompanying the finalization of the new rules, the US Department of Transportation has also pushed back the date for full compliance until September 2020. That means that the rules will be going into full effect roughly 10 years after they were first requested by the US Congress, back in 2010.

For those unfamiliar with the subject, the rules will require that plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles emit artificial sounds at speeds of under 18.6 miles per hour (30 km per hour), with the idea being that these vehicles are otherwise too quiet and that pedestrian and cyclist injuries will climb with their deployment otherwise.

Whether or not that assertion is actually true is still something of a debate, despite such vehicles now being fairly common in some urban regions of the US, and elsewhere in the world as well.

While full compliance can wait until September 2020, the finalized rule set still calls for half of the vehicles produced by electric vehicle manufacturers to possess these low-speed sounds by September 2019. That being the case, it seems likely that compliance will follow pretty quickly.

Reuters provides more: “The Trump administration froze the Obama-era rule as it conducted a review of petitions from automakers. Nissan had argued that the alert was only needed up to 12.4 mph (20 kph).”

“But that was rejected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an arm of the Department of Transportation, which has said it expects the rules finalized on Monday to prevent 2,400 injuries annually by 2020 and to require the addition of alert sounds to about 530,000 model 2020 vehicles.”

“Regulators said they will consider a request from automakers to allow them to include multiple sounds that would allow owners to select a preference. NHTSA has said the rules will cost the auto industry about $40 million annually because automakers will need to add an external waterproof speaker to comply. But the benefits of the reduced injuries are estimated at $250 million to $320 million annually.”

The NHTSA argues that hybrid vehicles are around 19% more likely than gasoline-powered vehicles to be involved in a pedestrian accident, but there’s some debate on the methods used to attain that figure. And, you’ll note, that relates to hybrids (the non-plug-in kind).

Do any of our plug-in hybrid or all-electric vehicle drivers and owners have an opinion on the need for low-speed sounds for pedestrian safety? What about the cyclists that read CleanTechnica? Is the issue overblown?

As an aside here, I’ll just note that things still seem to be moving at a glacial speed with regard to the legality of removing side mirrors (which notably worsen drag coefficients and lower fuel economy) and replacing them with video feeds. Personally I’d argue that legislation would be of greater public utility.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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