Minimum sound standards proposed for hybrid, electric vehicles


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WASHINGTON -- Federal regulators say it may be time for hybrid and electric vehicles to pump up the volume.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is proposing minimum sound standards for hybrid and electric vehicles as a way to make pedestrians more aware of them as they approach.

Because those vehicles don't rely on traditional gas or diesel-powered engines at low speeds, they tend to be much quieter, making them hard to hear amid ambient street noise. The proposed standard -- mandated in the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act -- would require that the vehicles are audible among a wide range of street noises whenever traveling under 18 miles per hour. At 18 miles per hour and faster, the NHTSA said last week, vehicles make enough noise that pedestrians and bicyclists can hear them without added sound.

The NHTSA said every automaker will have "a significant range of choices" about what sounds it picks for its vehicles, as long as it meets certain minimum requirements. The agency is sending its proposal to be listed in the Federal Register and the public will have 60 days to comment. They even put out a series of sample sounds, which seem to sound a lot like other vehicles.

The regulation requires that whatever sound is used, it increase in volume and pitch depending on the speed. And hybrid and electric vehicles will need some kind of sound when they are idling and in reverse as well as moving forward, the NHTSA said.

If the proposed rule is finalized in a timely fashion, a three-year phase-in could begin in September 2015.

"Safety is our highest priority, and this proposal will help keep everyone using our nation's streets and roadways safe," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration provided samples of sounds suitable for hybrid and electric cars at low speeds: www.nhtsa.gov/SampleSounds /.

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