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All electric cars will need to emit a sound at up to 19 mph to protect pedestrians starting in 2019

electric car and the blind

U.S. regulators took an outrageous amount of time to decide on this fairly simple issue, but now it’s finally here. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced today that electric and hybrid cars will need to emit a sound at up to 19 mph to protect pedestrians.

The sound emitting device will need to be in all new electric and hybrid cars manufactured starting in September 2019.

Suffice to say that automakers have it easy.

A ruling on this issue has been in the works since 2013, when the NHTSA estimated that the odds of an electric or hybrid vehicle being involved in a crash with a pedestrian are 19% higher compared with a louder gas-powered vehicle. The original proposal estimated that the rule could reduce pedestrian and bicyclist injuries by 2,800 instances every year, but it has now been revised to 2,400.

A decision has been pushed on several occasions and the ruling is only coming now, but automakers don’t have to install the device in their EVs for another 3 years.

The U.S. Department of Transportation hasn’t released many details about the new requirement, but the agency describes it as follows:

“Under the new rule, all hybrid and electric light vehicles with four wheels and a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less will be required to make audible noise when traveling in reverse or forward at speeds up to 30 kilometers per hour (about 19 miles per hour).  At higher speeds, the sound alert is not required because other factors, such as tire and wind noise, provide adequate audible warning to pedestrians.”

The problem is especially important for the visually impaired. Last year, Fully Charged produced a very interesting video on the subject with a blind man who is also an expert in audio:

Eric Bridges, executive director of the American council of the Blind, commended NHTSA on the new rule:

“We commend NHTSA on bringing this process to completion. This new safety standard moving forward will not just make our streets safer for blind and visually impaired Americans, but also serve as an additional safety cue for all pedestrians who share the streets with hybrid or electric vehicles.”

Now it will be interesting see how electric vehicle manufacturers implement the sound under the new rule, while making sure it is not bothering the driver and passengers of the vehicle. Of course, we will keep you updated. We already reached out to Tesla since we know the company has been working on the issue for a while in anticipation of the new rule.

The quietness of electric cars is part of the appeal and the new rule is sure to bother a few people. Though there might be ways to implement the sound while still making the experience less annoying than the sound of a gas-guzzling car. We will have to wait and see.

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