Trump admin to offer drivers audio choice for quiet cars

Source: By Timothy Cama, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Trump administration is proposing to let electric vehicle makers give drivers choices about which sounds their cars make.

Under a regulation that the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has started to implement, EVs and hybrids must produce artificial sounds at low speeds, when they’re usually extremely quiet, in order to alert pedestrians and other road users.

In a proposed amendment to that standard published today in the Federal Register, manufacturers would be allowed to give drivers options for the sounds their cars make, instead of locking them into one sound.

NHTSA is asking for comments from the public “on whether there should be a limit to the number of compliant sounds that a manufacturer can install in a vehicle and what that limit should be.”

The proposal responds to a January 2017 petition from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Global Automakers, arguing that such a change would help consumers accept EVs.

“Satisfying our customers is a primary concern for [manufacturers]. Since ‘one size does not fit all’ neither will one alert sound for a given make, model, trim level and model year satisfy all those consumers purchasing all these same vehicles,” the associations said in their petition.

The sounds would still have to meet existing requirements in areas such as volume.

The requirement that certain quiet vehicles make sounds at low speeds was first outlined in a 2010 law, in which Congress instructed regulators to write rules.

Automakers began implementing the change in half of their relevant new cars as of Sept. 1 and must complete the rest within a year.

Officials have estimated that the sounds would prevent 2,400 injuries a year, saving the country up to $320 million, at a cost of $40 million.

NHTSA had originally interpreted the 2010 law to not allow different sounds or driver choices, but the automaker groups argued that it does.

The agency is accepting public comments on today’s proposal through Nov. 1.