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NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

Posted November 16, 2016 11:13 AM by HUSH

Recall back in January 2015, when there was sensationalized outcry about how automakers were purposefully making their cars sound louder. As vehicle cabins became more soundproof and engines more efficient, many manufacturers opted to either, (A) play fake engine noise through a vehicle’s sound system, or (B) redesign systems or include components so the driver was better able to perceive the engine resonance. This was primarily done to meet driver expectations of what a car sounds like.

This is called ‘order content’ in automaker nomenclature. Greater numbers of hybrid and electric vehicles are entering the U.S. auto fleet (although EVs are less than 1% and hybrids are roughly 3% of the market share) and these vehicles are even quieter than the internal combustion engine vehicles that were under scrutiny two years ago.

So to help visually-impaired pedestrians—or more likely the thousands of phone-staring urbanites who would helplessly walk right into traffic without a glance—the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued regulations that all new electric and hybrid vehicles need to emit exterior noise when powered on and stopped or travelling below 18.6 mph (including in reverse) by September 1, 2019. This noise must also increase or decrease in pitch, to indicate acceleration and deceleration, and be able to indicate constant speed or reverse.

The NHTSA has also determined that not enough vehicle noise research has been done in regards to motorcycles and heavy-duty vehicles. So two- and three-wheeled vehicles are exempt from this policy, as are vehicles over 10,000 lb. The sound can also be eliminated when the vehicle exceeds 18.6 mph, as it should create enough operational noise to be a sufficient auditory cue.

This isn’t unlike the Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System legislation the European Union passed in 2014. AVAS systems have to be in place on all new EV and hybrid cars in the EU by July 2019 and retrofits have to be completed within two years after that. Probably the best feature of the AVAS ruling is EVs and hybrids can put their supplementary noise on pause.

It remains to be seen what sounds hybrid automakers will elect to use on their EVs and hybrids but some, such as Nissan, have already begun implementing acoustic warnings. The Nissan Leaf sounds a bit like a spaceship, but not in the cool way.

Compelling high efficiency vehicles to make noise eliminates one of their key features. Never forget that noise is indeed a type of pollution and wasted energy.

Of course Tesla, the manufacturer who has anted the most into the EV market, sees this as a problem. Electrek points out that in 2013, when AVAS and NHTSA’s quiet car rules were just beginning to take shape, Elon Musk saw this as a future possibility. He floated the idea of directed noise, using proximity sensors that recognize pedestrians and speakers that propagate sound at them. This might be the best compromise between EVs that make, arguably, too much noise, while also keeping blind or distracted pedestrians aware. With Tesla’s new Enhanced Autopilot, this is a very real possibility, but who knows if the NHTSA will believe it complies with their new mandate.

(Sarcasm: Next on the list are cars that send you a text message to tell you when it is safe to cross the street.)

No matter what noise car manufacturers elect to use on their EVs and hybrids, I don’t think anyone is going to be completely satisfied with the result. We’ll have cars that make genuine engine noise; cars that imitate engine noise; and cars that potentially sound nothing like cars at all.

It’s true that quiet vehicles could be a real danger in urban environments, but the answer of intentional noise pollution isn’t optimal. And at some point, even though we all can and do make mistakes, pedestrians need to have some self-reliance on their ability to navigate basic sidewalks.

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#1

Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/16/2016 2:21 PM

Does that include bicycles?

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#8
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Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/17/2016 11:54 AM

Not funny. I nearly hit a bar patron 4 weeks ago. I stupidly assumed:

1. Despite staring at his cellphone, he knew I was coming at 15mph.

2. He wasn't inebriated although he had just walked out of the bar.

3. He would never walk out into the street without looking first.

Guess I need a warning bell on my road cycle.

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#9
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Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/17/2016 2:24 PM

Or a playing card in the spokes...

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#11
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Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/17/2016 2:40 PM

Definitely not going in the spokes of my $500 wheel. Besides, with only 18 spokes per wheel, the noise would be quite a bit less than a 36 spoke cruiser wheel like we used as kids. And what does the fellow with the HED tri-spoke wheel do?

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#16
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Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/17/2016 10:17 PM

Use more cards.

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#10
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Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/17/2016 2:36 PM

Safety gimmicks don't fix stupid.

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#12
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Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/17/2016 2:44 PM

No they don't, but it is helpful to have had one and used it when facing a lawsuit.

Can you imagine that? Cyclist sued for running over pedestrian.

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#2

Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/16/2016 2:35 PM

Darwin would ensure we evolve into a species that looks both ways . . .

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#4
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Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/16/2016 9:10 PM

I lived for awhile in a city in the UK where there were a number of Americans. Written on the curbs was "Look Right". Americans automatically look to the left to see if it is safe to cross, exactly the wrong thing to do in a country that drives on the left.

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#5
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Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/16/2016 11:52 PM

only with a lot of 'weeding'

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#3

Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/16/2016 5:17 PM

I agree that this is a problem even in quiet parking lots.

Lawyers will make millions from this!

Texters should be aware or find an app that tells them when to come out of the text induced trance they are in while texting their BFF about what clothes to wear tonight.

It is an easy thing to do. In the 1990s while developing noise cancelling muffler systems for cars, we could "make your VW sound like a Ferrari" with our system.

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#6

Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/17/2016 4:25 AM

As bikers have known for years 'loud pipes save lives', though with some s-too-dense wearing totally enclosed headphones listening to musick whilst texting even open reverse cone mega's and full brrraaappppp mode won't get through into their thick little skulls...

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#7

Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/17/2016 10:14 AM

Yet another way Detroit and the oil companies are attempting to thwart the existential threat EV's pose to their bottom lines.

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#13

Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/17/2016 3:24 PM

I didn't see any guidelines for how loud the noise has to be. I hope it is defined as just a few dB above the ambient noise level (rather than some fixed dB level). One of the reasons people live in quiet suburban and exurban areas is to get away from city noise. It would be maddeningly ironic to them if their electric cars had to be as noisy in the suburbs as they are in the city.

Also, what about all the people who use headphones - especially noise-cancelling headphones - while wandering around the city on foot or on a bike? This 'operational noise' would be useless.

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#15
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Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/17/2016 9:45 PM

Actually I think in the future ICE cars will be trying to imitate the silence of electric - so long as it's a good electric.

Can't stand the sound of noisy electric motors / cars -

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#19
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Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/18/2016 11:49 AM

I got you. (I felt bad for not reading through the whole NHTSA ruling, but I was able to scan and find).

Values are in dB:

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#20
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Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/18/2016 12:39 PM

So we will have sound police now? if it makes too much sound you get ticketed and if its too quiet you get ticketed? This is getting farther and farther into the realm of stupid IMHO!

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#21
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Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/18/2016 1:36 PM

Are you actually aware of ANYONE who has ever gotten stopped for loud exhaust?

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#22
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Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/18/2016 2:05 PM

Actually. yes, Me, for uncapped headers. Ocala Fl. (doing a little road testing ;-) Then we have a guy who was cited for his stereo being too loud. Madison Wi. Has an ordinance and Sound meter and everything.

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#14

Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/17/2016 7:34 PM

NHSTA circumvents "Natural Selection" and "Darwin Award" candidates.

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#17
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Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/18/2016 10:12 AM

Yep. If we keep making exceptions for stupid then we are not doing ourselves any favors or ensuring a good future for our children. We aren't even ensuring that our children will be smarter than we are.

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#18
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Re: NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

11/18/2016 11:39 AM

But just think, your kids may be able to get jobs making playing cards.

Of course, they'll have to move to China!

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