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Hybrid and Electric Cars Must Make Noise by 2020

The legislation, which has been lingering since 2010, will take effect, finally, really this time.

Way back in 2010, Congress declared that quiet vehicles such as electric and hybrid cars must make some kind of noise at low speeds to alert pedestrians, cyclists, and the blind to their presence. After many delays, this legislation was supposed to take effect Sep. 1, 2019, however, the U.S. Department of Transportation on Monday finalized rules requiring half of all hybrid and electric cars comply by that date, with the rest due to be in compliance by 2020.

At speeds below 18.6 mph, these cars will be required to emit some kind of noise to make their presence better known to others in the surrounding area. At higher speeds noise from the tires, wind, and elsewhere makes these devices unnecessary. Nissan had argued that the alert was only needed up to 12.4 mph, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did not agree.

The NHTSA says that the new rules will help prevent 2,400 injuries each year by 2020. The agencey expects about 530,000 quiet vehicles will be equipped with audible alerts by 2020 at a cost of $40 million annually.

When I attended the Mount Washington Hillclimb last year, electric cars were required to run a siren at all times, regardless of their speed. These cars made little noise aside from the siren, so it was a good idea to have the additional warning to keep spectators and other people along the course safe, particularly at the speeds they were traveling.

Rather than a siren, which would be illegal for street use, regulators are considering allowing manufacturers to offer a variety of sounds their quiet vehicles can make, which the driver can select. It would be cool to make a Ford Fusion Hybrid sound like a classic Mustang, or a Toyota Prius sound like a turbo Supra or even the classic 4AGE from the AE86 Corolla and MR2. We can always hope.