The US Department of Transportation has finalized a rule that will have automakers adding a mandatory aural alert to quiet hybrid and pure-electric vehicles, many of which are virtually silent at low speeds compared to cars with traditional internal combustion engines. The rule is intended to help pedestrians, cyclists, and the blind avoid injury by providing an audible warning whenever an uncommonly quiet vehicle is approaching.
According to Automotive News, the rule requires that all “quiet” electrified vehicles be equipped by September, 2020 with an externally-mounted, waterproof speaker that emits a warning sound at speeds of 30 kph (18.6 mph) or less. Automakers must have the system installed in at least 50% of their quiet hybrid and electric vehicles by September, 2019.
The alert sound won’t be required at speeds greater than 30 kph because, regulators say, even quiet electrified vehicles produce sufficient sound in the form of wind, tire, and other noise sources to alert people traveling on foot or by bicycle that the vehicle is approaching.
For Ford Motor Company, which last month announced its plan to invest some $11 billion into bringing out 40 new electrified vehicles by 2022, the new rule means that Ford will have to put a not-insignificant amount of money into equipping the passenger vehicles with the requisite equipment. Additionally, creating an alert that’s sufficiently loud and communicative while still being palatable to the driver might pose its own challenge for Ford and other automakers. According to Automotive News, regulators will consider a request from automakers to allow the inclusion of several different alert sounds, from which the user will be able to select their preferred alert.
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates the annual cost to automakers at $40 million to abide by the new rule, but the government body estimates that it could prevent as many as 2,400 injuries per year by 2020.