Electric cars are so quiet that the prospect of hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of them entering US roads in the next few decades has federal officials worried that they’ll endanger pedestrian safety.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced this week that starting in 2019, all newly manufactured hybrid and electric cars will need to have noisemakers installed to help others hear them when they’re traveling at speeds below 19 miles per hour (30km/h). Above that speed, noise generated by the wind and the car’s tires are deemed loud enough that additional noise isn’t required.
The NHTSA estimates that adding noise to hybrid and electric vehicles will prevent about 2,400 pedestrian injuries each year.
As is, the federal mandate follows earlier initiatives from automakers, all of which have offered manually activated electronic warning sounds in some vehicles for years. The Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt are among those that are equipped with the technology in the US.
The rules also follow similar ones enacted in Europe in 2015. Somewhat ironically, the European mandate had been pushed through the European Parliament as part of legislation aimed at reducing overall vehicle noise.
Despite the rules, some car companies are reluctant to make their electric vehicles louder. When BMW unveiled its electric BMW i3 model in 2012, for instance, it dismissed the idea of warning noises. “We don’t think it makes sense to ring a bell outside the car,” a BMW official told Drive at the time. “Can you imagine if you have 30 or 40 of this type of car driving along the road together, what this artificial noise would sound like? This will drive you nuts.”
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