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NHTSA sets 'silent' HEV audible safety standard to protect pedestrians

The US Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced it is adding a sound requirement for all newly manufactured hybrid and electric light-duty vehicles to help protect pedestrians.

The NHTSA’s new federal safety standard will help pedestrians with visual impairments and other pedestrians detect the presence, direction and location of these vehicles when they are traveling at low speeds, which will help prevent about 2,400 pedestrian injuries each year once all hybrids in the fleet are properly equipped.

Under the new rule, all light-classification hybrid and electric vehicles (HEVs) with four wheels and a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 lb or less will be required to make audible noise when traveling in reverse or forward at speeds up to 19mph (30km/h). At higher speeds, the sound alert is not required because other factors, such as tire and wind noise, provide adequate audible warning to pedestrians.

Manufacturers have until September 1, 2019, to equip all new hybrid and electric vehicles with sounds that meet the new federal safety standard. Half of new HEVs must be in compliance one year before the final deadline. The new standard, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No 141, responds to Congress’s mandate in the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act that hybrid and electric vehicles meet minimum sound requirements to provide an audible alert for blind and visually-impaired pedestrians.

“We all depend on our senses to alert us to possible danger,” said US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “With more, quieter hybrid and electrical cars on the road, the ability for all pedestrians to hear as well as see the cars becomes an important factor of reducing the risk of possible crashes and improving safety.”

NHTSA Administrator Dr Mark Rosekind added, “This is a common-sense tool to help pedestrians, especially folks who are blind or have low vision, make their way safely. With pedestrian fatalities on the rise, it is vitally important we take every action to protect the most vulnerable road users.”

Eric Bridges, executive director of the American Council Of The Blind, commented, “We commend NHTSA on bringing this process to completion. This new safety standard moving forward will not just make our streets safer for blind and visually impaired Americans, but also serve as an additional safety cue for all pedestrians who share the streets with hybrid or electric vehicles.”

Mark A Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, noted, “Having raised concerns on behalf of blind Americans about the dangers posed by silent hybrid and electric vehicles, we are extremely pleased that technical specifications for a safe level of sound to be emitted by such vehicles have now been issued.

“The full implementation of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 will protect all pedestrians, especially the blind, as well as cyclists. This regulation will ensure that blind Americans can continue to travel safely and independently as we work, learn, shop, and engage in all facets of community life.”

November 15, 2016

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