WASHINGTON – It was a problem not foreseen when hybrid and electric cars were being developed: the sound they make.
They barely make a whoosh as they pass by. With ambient sound and other traffic noise, it can be nearly impossible for pedestrians to hear them.
Now the U.S. Department of Transportation is proposing new regulations that would make the so-called “green cars” noisier and safer to pedestrians.
“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,” says David Strickland, administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in a written release.
The National Federation of the Blind has been lobbying for the changes for years. Spokesman Chris Danielsen says adding sound to the cars will make them much easier for people to detect.
“All pedestrians use vehicle sound to a certain extent whether they even realize they are using it or not,” says Danielsen.
But the sound is particularly important for the visually impaired.
“You have to be able to listen to the sound of the traffic and figure out what direction it’s traveling and how fasts it’s traveling,” he says.
The NHTSA says adding sound to hybrid and electric vehicles would prevent 2,800 pedestrian injuries over the lifespan of each one of those vehicles.
The proposed rules would require hybrids and electric cars to be easier to detect while traveling below 18 mph, when they are much quieter than traditional cars.
NHTSA sent the proposals to the Federal Register Monday and the public will have 60 days to comment.
Listen to the report to the right to hear one of the proposed sounds, and hear the rest here.