Noise requirements proposed for hybrid and electric vehicles

Electric vehicles and hybrids are quiet — a little too quiet for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The agency on Monday announced proposals for minimum sound requirements on hybrid and electric vehicles. Without an internal combustion engine running, many vehicles can operate under full or partial electric power with little to no sound to warn pedestrians or cyclists, particularly the visually impaired.

“This proposal will help keep everyone using our nation's streets and roadways safe, whether they are motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

The Department of Transportation estimates the proposed changes to hybrid and electric vehicles would result in 2,800 fewer injuries to pedestrians and cyclists for every model year that such a system is required.

The proposed noise would be necessary only at speeds under 18 miles per hour, the agency said. At 18 mph and above, vehicles naturally make enough sound to be detected.

Automakers would have a range of choices for car noises, the agency said. The agency posted 14 samples of sounds at

Some hybrids and electric vehicles already make noise to warn pedestrians of their presence. The Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid sends out an electronic whir from faux exhaust pipes at speeds of up to 25 mph. A Department of Transportation spokesman says the Karma would not need to alter its sound to meet the suggested requirements.

The proposal has 60 days for the public to comment and offer changes.


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