Electric Cars

Electric cars must adhere to 'quiet car' regulations by 2020

Congress first demanded that EVs make a bit of noise at low speeds back in 2010.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Everyone likes to joke about moving at the speed of government, but when something as simple as making sure electric cars don't kill deaf people takes 10 years to get implemented, the jokes are well deserved.

The United States government has finally set its "quiet cars" mandate in stone, Reuters reports. Automakers will have until September 2020 to ensure that their electric vehicles make noise at speeds below 30 kilometers per hour (18.6 mph), and they must be 50 percent compliant one year earlier than that.

I wonder if Elon will pay for the rights to have all his cars play David Bowie as they cruise along at 10 mph. In a perfect world, maybe.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Congress first demanded action on this back in 2010, but the final date mentioned above is only one year behind the schedule put in place under President Obama's administration.

Ensuring that quiet EVs and hybrids make noise at low speeds isn't for the benefit of the driver. Instead, the noise will make it easier for cyclists, pedestrians and the blind to figure out when vehicles are nearby. The hope is that these noisemakers will prevent anyone from inadvertently stepping in front of a vehicle. At higher speeds, tire and wind noise are suitably loud to alert people.

You might not be stuck with a noise you don't like, either. Federal regulators said they'll consider an automaker's request to implement a system with a variety of noises from which the driver can choose. It does not appear that there are any limitations on what kinds of sounds the cars can make, but based on what automakers have already introduced, I'd expect most of them to carry some quasifuturistic beeping or whooshing.

This change isn't going to happen for free, nor will the government foot the bill. Adding a waterproof speaker to vehicles that require one will cost the industry about $40 million, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but it's believed that the subsequent reduction in injuries will save $250 million to $320 million. By that logic, it's well worth it.

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