Your quiet hybrid is likely to make itself heard in the not-so-distant future

Coming soon to your quiet hybrid:
By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post, November 23, 2016

Under a new safety regulation issued by the federal government, hybrids and electric cars will be equipped with a device that emits sound to alert passersby that the vehicle is running. Manufacturers have until Sept. 1, 2019, to meet the requirement.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in announcing the new safety standard, said adding noise to the nearly soundless vehicles could prevent nearly 2,400 injuries a year to pedestrians and bicyclists.

The measure is of special importance to people who are blind or visually impaired.

“The sound is really important when you’re at an intersection because it’s really the only thing that’s telling you not only whether there are cars in the intersection or not, but what the overall pattern of the traffic is,” said Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind, which lobbied for the measure.

Danielsen, who is blind, said sound is critical even for a person who is using a guide dog or when intersections are equipped with audio devices to help people navigate. It’s also important in parking lots, where slow-moving hybrids or electric vehicles can travel in almost complete silence.

[Quiet electric cars must be noisier to alert people, NHTSA proposal says.]

The federal safety agency began gathering evidence of potential dangers posed by cars powered by something besides an internal combustion engine at least six years ago. In 2009, Nissan proposed adding a chime or perhaps even a futuristic whirring noise that reminded one of our colleagues of the flying machines in “Blade Runner.”

[The deadly silence of the electric car]

But, in a way, the rule will take the automobile industry back in time, to the days when engineers sweated over ways to silence the gas-powered engine.

Automakers will have to equip all new hybrids and electric passenger vehicles with sound alerts that operate when the vehicles travel forward at speeds of up to about 19 miles an hour or in reverse. The agency said that at faster speeds, an artificial sound alert isn’t needed because the vehicle’s tire and wind noises can alert pedestrians.

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