Noise mandate for hybrids, electrics faces NHTSA delay

August 3, 2017

Hybrids and electric vehicles are so quiet that pedestrians can't hear them coming. NHTSA last year finalized a rule requiring the vehicles to make noise but has since delayed the effective date.

A regulation requiring normally quiet hybrid and electric vehicles to make noise at low speeds in order to warn pedestrians of their approach has been delayed.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced the final rule in November 2016, and it was set to take effect in February (see "Regulators finalize noise requirement for hybrids, electric vehicles," Feb. 1, 2017). Since then, NHTSA has delayed the effective date several times. The latest postponement goes until Sept. 5.

NHTSA initially delayed the rule because of the Trump Administration's Jan. 20 memo instructing agencies to postpone the effective dates of regulations that had been approved but hadn't yet taken effect.

The agency says it also is taking time to respond to petitions from some automakers and industry groups, who are asking NHTSA to change the compliance deadline from 2019 to 2020 and to clarify the rule's technical requirements.

Electric motors are much quieter than internal combustion engines. Pedestrians and bicyclists can be at risk if they can't hear a moving vehicle nearby. Advocates for the blind were the first to draw attention to the issue.

Under the new rule, hybrid and electric vehicles must emit an engine-like sound while moving forward or in reverse at speeds up to 19 mph. The rule also requires the noise from stationary vehicles if they aren't in park.

IIHS supported the requirement. A 2011 HLDI analysis found that hybrids were about 20 percent more likely to have a bodily injury liability claim without an associated claim for vehicle damage than their conventional counterparts. Such claims are likely to result from pedestrian crashes (see "Hybrid models have lower injury odds than their conventional counterparts," Nov. 17, 2011).

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