The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a proposal in January that would require equipping hybrid and electric vehicles with a device that raises their noise levels so pedestrians are more aware of the approaching vehicles. The sounds would need to be detectable when vehicles are traveling slower than 18 miles per hour. NHTSA has estimated that this “quiet-car rule” would save 35 lives over each model year and also prevent 2,800 injuries. The proposal would be particularly beneficial to blind and visually impaired pedestrians. The National Federation of the Blind has been one of the proposals biggest supporters.
Since electric and hybrid vehicles do not rely solely on gas or diesel-powered engines at low speeds, they are much quieter and much more difficult to detect. The amplified sounds would have to be audible over a variety of street noises and other background sounds, but not so loud as to create unnecessary noise pollution. Each auto maker would have a wide range of choices about the sounds it chooses for its vehicles, with each vehicle of the same make and model required to have the same sound or set of sounds. According to NHTSA, the quiet cars are twice as likely as vehicles with internal combustion engines to be involved in pedestrian accidents when backing up, slowing or stopping, starting in traffic or entering or leaving a parking space or driveway.
The estimated costs to manufacturers to add the equipment would be about $25 million per year, or about $35 per light vehicle. About $1.48 million of these annual costs would be used to equip larger vehicles, trucks, buses and motorcycles with sound. The costs assume hybrid vehicles are 4.1% of U.S. light-vehicle sales. In 2012, hybrids were 3% of light vehicles sold in the U.S., up from 2.1% in 2011. Plug-in electric vehicles were 0.37% percent of sales last year, up from 0.14% in 2011.
With gas prices approaching historically high prices, the number of auto manufacturers that are producing hybrids is growing. In 2004 just three hybrid vehicle options were available to the U.S. market. Today, there are over 30 vehicle options available. The market for hybrid limousines is also growing. Luxury models, both stretch and sedans, are becoming more plentiful from manufacturers such as BMW, Lexus, Mercedes, Cadillac and Lincoln, with some companies boasting entire hybrid fleets as they “go green.”