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U.S. Establishes “Quiet” Car Sound Rule, with a Full Compliancy Deadline of 2020

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Pedestrian Crossing the Road

Just yesterday, the U.S. Department of Transportation finalized a “quiet” car ruling which will require automakers to incorporate pedestrian alert sounds into their vehicles, particularly electric and hybrid models. 2020 was set as the full compliancy date for vehicles to implement the new protective technology.

According to the requirements, the alert sounds must activate when the vehicle is moving up to 18.6 mph. This is because, per the NHTSA, electric and hybrid vehicles are harder to hear than gas-fueled vehicles, when traveling at low speeds.

The organization estimates that hybrid vehicles are 19% more likely than gas-fueled vehicles to play a role in pedestrian crashes. By 2020, the “quiet” car rules are predicted to prevent 2,400 injuries each year.

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The new ruling comes at a steep price to automakers, however. The auto industry is expected to spend approximately $40 million per year on the new technology, which involves installing a special waterproof speaker on the exterior of each vehicle.

Up till now, certain electric models had subtle pedestrian detection sounds. Take the 2016 Chevy Volt, for example, which issued a low, metallic hum when it detected a pedestrian or object nearby.

Exactly what these new pedestrian alert sounds will sound like is up for debate. Some people believe that alert sounds should be similar to turn signal or brake light displays, as Don Norman, director of the Design Lab at UC San Diego, articulated. The alerts should kick in well in advance of the car’s intended action, to provide pedestrians with ample time to get out of the way.

As Joel Beckerman, founder of Man Made, expressed, the challenge is to create a sound that is unique but that people won’t ignore, like they often do with car alarms. “We want a sound that elicits the quickest reaction time,” he said.

We anticipate more details as mainstream automakers begin to develop and unveil these new pedestrian alert sounds which should significantly increase pedestrian safety.

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News Sources: Insurance Journal, Wired,