Congress wants cars to make more noise. Well, not exactly all cars, but three years ago, the US Congress did set new rules in motion for electric vehicles to have some sound emitted. Now, the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) has proposed that a speaker system be installed in hybrids and electric vehicles. The estimated industry cost is set at $23 million. As all other governmental 'estimates', it is believed the NHTSA's new rules will probably cost double or triple that amount. More noise costs more money.
NHTSA Administrator David Strickland issued a statement saying, “Our proposal would allow manufacturers the flexibility to design different sounds for different makes and models while still providing an opportunity for pedestrians, bicyclists, and the visually impaired to detect and recognize a vehicle.”
The initial Congressional mandate was intended to protect pedestrians, bicyclists, and the visually impaired from vehicles that make very little or no sounds when only electric power is being used. According to the NHTSA, vehicles should make some sort of 'noise' when the speed is less than 18 mph and that this would prevent about 2,800 injuries per year.
Based upon the Congressional rules and the NHTSA's proposal, car manufacturers will have to add speakers to hybrids and all-electric vehicles. Many vehicles currently on the road already are using some sort of sound system.
The Nissan Leaf is the best-selling all-electric battery-powered vehicle, has a sound system that plays automatically at speeds less than 18 mph, which a driver-over-ride deactivation button. The Chevy Volt, the best-selling plug-in hybrid, allows the driver to activate a warning sound, but does not provide the sound automatically at slow speeds. In the Volt, the driver must use a button located at the end of the turn signal lever. The Toyota Prius, the best-selling gasoline-electric hybrid, has an electronic whirring sound that is activated up to 15 mph, and cannot be disable by the driver.
The proposed requirements will require all automakers to add sufficient speakers that can be heard from the street area, but also protected from weather influences. The speakers may have various sounds, such as a regular gasoline engine noise, a whirring noise, or a humming noise. These sounds would be provided by a digital processor and activated at speeds less than 18 mph.
As expected, the costs of the vehicles will be increased to compensate for these additional mandates. The NHTSA proposes that the initial cost of the speakers and processor will only be about $30 and the additional fuel costs (because of added weight) will only be $5 over the vehicle lifetime. Observers, while not in opposition to the new rules, conclude that the actual increased costs will be closer to $100 and that the manufacturers will probably add $200 to $300 to the vehicle MSRP to compensate.
The National Federation of the Blind are advocating that the sounds may not be deactivated by the driver while the vehicle is in motion. The NHTSA has included the 'no-deactivation' as part of their proposal, stating it “would compromise pedestrian safety.”
The proposed NHTSA rules must be published in the Federal Register and allow for a 60-day public comment period before they go in effect. They will be applicable to passenger cars, light trucks, motorcycles, heavy-duty trucks, vans, and buses.