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NHTSA: Louder Cars Would Reduce Pedestrian Accidents

Craig McClellan

That National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has called for louder cars.

Yes, you read that right. In the name of safety, the NHTSA is fighting for noise pollution. The reason? Electric and hybrid cars can be very quiet when travelling at low speeds, so quiet that pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers may not hear them. This, in turn, increases the risk of bicycle and pedestrian accidents.

According to a study by the NHTSA, hybrid vehicles are more likely to cause pedestrian accidents than gas-powered vehicles. Hybrid and electric vehicles are 19% more likely to be involved in pedestrian accidents, and 38% more likely to crash with a bicycle. In fact, the NHTSA believes that setting minimum sound requirements would reduce the number of pedestrian and bicycle accidents by 2,800 per year.

Under the proposal that the NHTSA recently sent to the Federal Register, there would be a minimum sound requirement for electric and hybrid vehicles traveling under 18 mph. Manufacturers would be able to design "different sounds for different makes and models" as long as those sounds rose above street noise.

"Safety is our highest priority, and this proposal will help keep everyone using our nation's streets and roadways safe, whether they are motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians, and especially the blind and visually impaired," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said upon announcing the proposal.

More than 4,000 people are killed and 70,000 injured in U.S. pedestrian-and- car accidents every year. Anything that can reduce those numbers should be considered. If a car manufacturer fails to meet the minimum sound requirements, it could be held liable for injuries its quiet vehicles cause.


The NHTSA released their draft of the new regulations, with the finalized version scheduled to appear in January 2014. Unfortunately, the final rules were not released by January 2014. The Obama administration, at the 25th anniversary celebration of the American with Disabilities Act, promised the new rules would appear in November 2015. As of January 2016, their new deadline is March 2016—over 9 years since the Department of Transportation began studying this issue.

Their reasons for the delays are over “new research,” but the lack of action has been frustrating for advocates of disabled Americans, such as organizations for people with vision or hearing impairment. With the current deadline of March 2016, automakers could still have electronic warning systems for pedestrians by 2019...but it’s looking increasingly unlikely as the NHTSA continues missing deadline after deadline.

The new regulations originally ordered all automakers in the U.S. to comply by January 2018—however, that compliance date has been moved to a later date as a result of the delays. As of February 2015, the NHTSA did not specify when automakers would be required to equip their cars with pedestrian warning sounds. Thankfully, some automakers have already begun doing so.

The following vehicles already have pedestrian warning systems for their vehicles:

  • Nissan Leaf
  • Chevrolet Volt
  • Honda FCX Clarity
  • Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
  • Nissan Infiniti Hybrid M35
  • Toyota Camry Hybrid
  • EV Honda Fit

At the rate the electric vehicle and hybrid market is going, the industry may correct itself long before the NHTSA delivers on its 6-year-old promise. Either through natural demands or new regulation, our firm is happy to see car manufacturers begin considering the safety of pedestrians from a design perspective.