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Carmakers granted a delay in adding mandatory noise to EVs

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A change is also being considered that would let drivers select from different sounds

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

Carmakers have successfully lobbied the US government to push back the enforcement of a rule that requires hybrid and electric vehicles to emit a noise when traveling under 19 miles per hour. Originally slated to go into effect in late 2019, the deadline for automakers to add noise to all hybrids and EVs in production is now September 2020. In the meantime, just 50 percent of a company’s hybrid and electric vehicles produced on or after September 1st, 2019, must emit a noise that complies with the rule.

This means the first hybrids and EVs to make the mandated noise will now be (some) model year 2020 vehicles. But it’s not certain that all these vehicles will sound the same. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also considering allowing cars to offer different sounds that a driver could select from, an idea the agency says it will allow the public to comment on later this year. NHTSA also loosened the language in the rule that restricted sound variation between different makes, models, and trim levels.

The decision to push back the compliance deadline comes after requests for a delay were submitted by various carmakers and an auto industry trade association. Honda, General Motors, the Auto Alliance, and the Association of Global Automakers — the last two being groups that represent dozens of car companies and suppliers — asked for a delay in early 2017. They argued that the short turnaround would make it “very difficult if not impossible for manufacturers to meet the final rule’s compliance phase-in schedule,” according to NHTSA.

While some electric motors emit low whines or whirrs, EVs and hybrids are, by and large, relatively silent at low speeds compared to their combustion engine counterparts. The worry at the is that an increase of them on public roads — something that now seems inevitable as carmakers pledge to electrify their fleets in order to meet government mandates around the world — could crank up the number of injured pedestrians. A study performed by NHTSA found that hybrid vehicles were involved in crashes with pedestrians 1.18 times more than cars with combustion engines, and so the agency estimates that requiring cars to produce an artificial noise at low speeds could prevent 2,400 injuries every year.

NHTSA also turned down a petition from Nissan to lower the speed at which the sound will stop. Nissan wanted the cutoff speed to be 12.4 miles per hour, but NHTSA said that “no new data or analyses have been presented” by the company that were compelling enough to change the agency’s mind. It’s an odd move for Nissan, which has been one of the most vocal about how it wants to make its electric cars “sing” in the future. Regardless, the cutoff will remain at 18.6 miles per hour, the point at which NHTSA believes tire, wind, and other noise becomes loud enough that an artificial sound is no longer needed.