Electric cars may represent the wave of the future in automotive transportation. For all the potential benefits of electric vehicles, they do come with one safety drawback: they are too quiet. The percentage of car accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists being struck by electric cars is higher than for gas or diesel-powered vehicles. It is believed that the difference in accident rates is based on the fact that people do not hear the electric car coming in time to avoid them. Walkers who would move aside or take precautionary steps at the approach of a gas-powered car continue on their paths until it is too late to avoid an accident.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was ordered by Congress to establish a rule for electric car manufacturers to make the vehicles noisier. The law, passed in 2010, gave the NHTSA until this past January to publish the rule. It was then to be phased in by car companies in 2016 and fully adopted by 2018. Unfortunately, the NHTSA has still not posted its final rule. It is now estimating that the rule will not be finalized until next April. Automakers are requesting that the phase-in period be delayed.
The request for delay may stem from the same concern that is causing the final rule to be delayed. The issue of what components are necessary to avoid quiet car accidents is complex. The rule will likely require devices that make noises of a certain loudness at certain times. The devices must be durable and reliable. Automakers are concerned that designing such a system in a shortened time period will prove impossible.
A delayed timeline means more injuries and deaths suffered by people who never hear the trouble coming. The sooner the sound systems are in place, the sooner pedestrians and bikers will be protected from the unforeseen danger of quiet vehicles.
Source: The Detroit News, "Automakers urge NHTSA to delay 'quiet car' rules," by David Shepardson, 24 July 2014