US finalizes rules to make electric cars noisier

noisemaker
Screen capture Mad Max/ a future electric car

The government has been making noise about this issue for years, and passed the The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 that prescribed noisemakers for quiet cars. Now the U.S. National Highway Transportation Department has finally released the rules: They have to make noise if they are going less than 18.6 MPH (30 km/hr). According to the NHTSA,

The new federal safety standard will help pedestrians who are blind, have low vision, and other pedestrians detect the presence, direction and location of these vehicles when they are traveling at low speeds, which will help prevent about 2,400 pedestrian injuries each year once all hybrids in the fleet are properly equipped.

noise standardNHTSA/Screen capture

Noisemakers are not required above 18.6 MPH because above those speeds, wind and tire noise dominate. Below that speed, the cars will have to crank out about 66 decibels, roughly the noise of a vacuum cleaner.

noise levelsnoise levels /via

"This is a common-sense tool to help pedestrians — especially folks who are blind or have low vision — make their way safely," said NHTSA Administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind. "With pedestrian fatalities on the rise, it is vitally important we take every action to protect the most vulnerable road users."

The National Federation for the Blind, one of the drivers of this idea, is thrilled, and says “The full implementation of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 will protect all pedestrians, especially the blind, as well as cyclists.”

baseball cardsInstructables/CC BY 2.0

When Mike first wrote about this four years ago, I commented:

What a terrible idea. It is a driver's job to look out for pedestrians. Next thing you know I will have to put baseball cards on my bicycle spokes like when I was a kid.

I have not changed my opinion. As a cyclist and a pedestrian, I believe that the whole idea is absurd. One of the great benefits of electric cars was going to be the fact that our cities would be quieter; Zach wrote:

As cars get quieter and quieter (by dropping the ICE engine and going electric), people will stop accepting the noise of inefficient fossil beasts. We will come to appreciate the quieter lifestyle and other sounds of the city.

Now every car has to put out as much noise as a vacuum cleaner at low speeds.

There is also the question of how this protects pedestrians in the first place. If they are legally crossing and the driver legally is giving them right of way, then why is this necessary? The only reason to have a noisemaker on the car is to provide warning to the pedestrian so they can what, jump out of the way?

Then there is the question of volume. The majority of those getting hit are older people, who often have lousy hearing. Are they going to pick this up at all? Or are the regulators going to say gee, we need it louder?

And finally, in all those pedestrian injuries and fatalities, how many drivers are actually going less than 18.9 MPH? The great majority of them happen because drivers are going too fast and not paying attention. So why not have safer roads, lower speed limits and driver responsibility instead.

In the end this is:
a) wasting an opportunity to make our cities quieter and more pleasant with electric cars,
b) shifting responsibility for pedestrian safety from the driver to the pedestrian who clearly should be listening and ready to jump, and
c) I simply do not believe it is going to reduce pedestrian injuries by 2400 per year because most of the crashes are the fault of drivers going faster than 18.9 MPH.

The car makers were never crazy about the idea of noisemakers, claiming they were too loud and the rules too complicated. It will also cost them $ 39 million per year for the speakers and tech. So who knows, maybe Trump will listen to them and kill this; he lives in the city and would probably prefer a quieter 5th Avenue.

Tags: Electric Cars | Urban Life

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