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Updated Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 06:50 AM

Feds: Electric cars must make noise so pedestrians can hear

By Angela Greiling Keane
Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON — Electric cars, which have soundless engines, would need to make noises to let pedestrians know they’re near under a U.S. proposed rule released Monday.

Sounds would need to be detectable when vehicles are traveling slower than 18 miles per hour so electric and hybrid-electric cars can be heard by bicyclists and pedestrians, particularly the visually impaired, under the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rule.

Above 18 mph, cars make enough noise that they don’t need artificial sound, NHTSA said. Hybrid-electric cars such as General Motors Co.’s Chevrolet Volt use electric engines at low speeds and can switch to internal-combustion engines. Fully electric cars such as the Nissan Motor Co. Leaf use only battery power.

The so-called quiet-car rule, which would have to be made final before it takes effect, would save 35 lives over each model year of hybrid vehicles and prevent 2,800 injuries, the agency said in an e-mailed statement.

“To add about a $30 or $35 item to a car for this kind of injury and death prevention, it’s hard to argue against,” Jesse Toprak, an analyst for industry data provider in Santa Monica, California, said in an interview. “I’m sure all of us have experienced at some time the fear of getting struck by a Prius.”

Adding external speakers to quiet vehicles would cost about $25 million a year, or about $35 per light vehicle, NHTSA said. About $1.48 million of the annual costs would be to equip large trucks and buses and motorcycles with sound, the agency said.

The National Federation of the Blind had pushed for the rule, saying an increasing number of cars that don’t make noise at low speeds put blind people at risk.

Cars that aren’t using internal-combustion engines don’t make noise while they accelerate or idle like vehicles that are powered by gasoline or diesel fuel. The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 requires the U.S. Transportation Department, which includes NHTSA, to write a rule addressing this issue by Jan. 4, 2014.

The so-called quiet-car rule would save an estimated 35 lives over each model year of hybrid vehicles and prevent 2,800 injuries, a federal agency says.


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