FutureStructure

Hybrids, Electric Vehicles Must Be Loud Enough for Blind to Hear

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates the new standard could prevent about 2,400 pedestrian injuries annually once all electrified vehicles are properly equipped.

by Greg Gardner, Detroit Free Press / November 15, 2016
Like a 10-year-old Prius, California's climate strategy is showing its age. Flickr/Matt Calkins

(TNS) -- Government safety regulators have set a new standard that requires hybrids and electric vehicles to generate enough noise so pedestrians and blind people can hear them in crosswalks and parking lots.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates the new standard could prevent about 2,400 pedestrian injuries annually once all electrified vehicles are properly equipped. Because these vehicles run on batteries, especially in low-speed environments such as parking lots and at traffic lights, they are extremely quiet. While that may be a pleasant effect for nearby residents, it presents a risk to the visually impaired or even to non-handicapped pedestrians who are not paying attention.

The situation will become more urgent in large cities where implementation of ride-hailing fleets will grow fastest. Most of these vehicles, whether autonomous or human-driven, will have electrified powertrains.

Under the new rule, all hybrid and electric vehicles with four wheels and a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less will be required to make audible noise when traveling in reverse or forward at speeds up to about 19 miles per hour. At higher speeds, tire and wind noise provide adequate audible warning to pedestrians.

Automakers have until Sept. 1, 2019, to equip all new hybrid and electric vehicles with sounds that meet the new federal safety standard. Half of new hybrid and electric vehicles must be in compliance one year before the final deadline.

Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, commended NHTSA for the new rule.

"This regulation will ensure that blind Americans can continue to travel safely and independently as we work, learn, shop and engage in all facets of community life,” Riccobono said.

“This is a common-sense tool to help pedestrians — especially folks who are blind or have low vision — make their way safely,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “With pedestrian fatalities on the rise, it is vitally important we take every action to protect the most vulnerable road users.”

©2016 the Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC