Do electric vehicles need to make noise? Feds say 'yes'

Pedestrians are used to listening for vehicles at intersections, which poses an interesting dilemma when it comes to quiet electric engines.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

How's this for a new profession: designer of the appropriate engine sounds for electric vehicles.

Citing safety concerns, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is proposing that makers of electric and hybrid vehicles meet minimum noise requirements so that pedestrians can hear them when they are coming.

The sounds would need to be distinguishable over street noise and other ambient background sounds when they are running at speeds of less than 18 miles per hour. Apparently, they make enough noise when going faster than that.

"Our proposal would allow manufacturers the flexibility to design different sounds for different makes and models while still providing an opportunity for pedestrians, bicyclists and the visually impaired to detect and recognize a vehicle and make a decision about whether it is safe to cross the street," said David Strickland, NHTSA administrator.

Although car makers would be able to pick their own distinct sounds, they would have to fall into a certain genre. So, for example, the sound of an accelerating vehicle might be different than one that is slowing down or idling. That would probably have to approximate the sounds that we're used to hearing today.

I had a debate over this very topic during the holidays, when I was discussing electric vehicles with one of my husband's friends who is a sportscar enthusiast. He is very particular about the sounds his cars makes, so he has been reluctant to consider electric. Who knows, maybe there's a sounded-up Tesla in his future after all.

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