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Drivers may choose electric car alert sounds, US proposal says

By 2020, quiet cars must emit a noise to alert others to their presence, but drivers may be able to choose the noise.

Could we make this Leaf sound like a McLaren?

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

After lengthy delays, in 2018 the US finalized regulations for electric cars and other quiet vehicles to emit a sound at speeds under 18.6 mph. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's updated proposal, however, may provide drivers some variety.

Rather than one sound per vehicle model, the government agency now proposes drivers be able to select an electric-car alert sound. Reuters first reported the news on Monday. NHTSA will now leave the proposal up for a public comment period.

NHTSA wants the public's opinion "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."

As of this month, automakers are required to equip 50% of their "quiet cars," which applies to silent electric vehicles, with an alert noise at low speeds. The rules, first brought about in 2010, have been delayed for years, but come 2020, every quiet vehicle will need the alert mechanism. Regulators concluded cars make enough noise from tire and wind noise to forego the alert above 18.6 mph (that's 30 kph in case you're wondering why so precise a figure).

Think of the sound as a gentle reminder when strolling through parking lots with cars backing out of spaces and crawling through the area. It's nice to hear a car approach, and something we take for granted with internal-combustion engines. NHTSA said the alert will help prevent 2,400 injuries annually.

As for what kind of sounds exist today, they're mostly just loud enough to hear and don't disrupt the idea of silent driving in electric vehicles. Tomorrow, who knows? Maybe we'll have Teslas sounding like Hellcats.

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