The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began the process this week to propose regulations that would mandate quiet road vehicles have added sounds on the road to protect pedestrians and the visually impaired from oncoming traffic. Already signed into law by President Barack Obama on January 4 under the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010, the NHTSA’s regulations will evaluate how to enforce such a law.
“America’s streets must be safe for everyone who uses them,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement. “As we improve the environment with cleaner cars, we must also consider how it affects those on bikes and on foot.”
Under the law, hybrid and electric vehicles will be mandated to have built-in sounds when operating at low speeds. While not going into effect for another few years, Hyundai didn’t wait for the NHTSA to act before recalling approximately 700 new 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid cars in the port in order to retrofit a “virtual engine sound system” that emits the noise of an engine idling at low speeds.
Discussing the mandate, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said in a statement, “Even as we make giant leaps forward with hybrid and electric vehicles, we must remain laser focused on safety. With more and more quiet vehicles on the road, we have to consider their effect on pedestrians.”
While NHTSA administrators seem to be taking this law quite seriously, we hope automakers see the virtual engine sounds as an opportunity to have a little fun. In Ford’s Electric Vehicles Facebook group, the automaker asked fans to rank how well they liked the four different virtual engine sounds that they may use on the upcoming Ford Focus Electric, which you can find here.