Well, that’s a bummer. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration won’t be moving forward with a proposal to let electric vehicle owners pick their own low-speed sounds, citing a lack of “supportable data.” The move was first reported by Reuters.
Back in 2019, NHTSA introduced a proposed rule-making that would have allowed drivers to “select the sound they prefer from the set of sounds installed in the vehicle.” The idea was an amendment to a previous rule requiring EVs to make fake sounds at low speeds to prevent injuring pedestrians, especially people who are blind or visually impaired. But after soliciting feedback from the industry and consumer groups, the agency says it is scrapping the proposed rule.
“The great majority of the comments on the [notice of proposed rule-making], including those submitted by advocacy organizations for the blind and by people who are blind or who have low vision, did not favor the proposal to allow hybrid and electric vehicles to have an unlimited number of different pedestrian alert sounds,” a spokesperson for NHTSA said. “Most of those comments favored more uniformity, rather than less, in the number and types of alert sounds allowed.”
Electric cars are quieter than internal combustion engine vehicles. The only noises EVs usually generate is caused by wind resistance or tire noises, and that is only at moderate to higher speeds. In the US and Europe, electric and hybrid vehicles with gross vehicle weight ratings up to 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds) are required to emit a sound when operating at speeds below 30 kilometers per hour (approximately 20 miles per hour).
Currently, most EVs emit the same robotic hum when operating at low speeds. And NHTSA says that’s fine, just so long as it doesn’t add a bunch of additional sounds that owners can select. Basically, the agency says it wants to prevent a situation where you have tens of thousands of EVs on the road making all sorts of musical sounds or bird noises — or fart sounds, for that matter. (Tesla, I’m looking at you.)
Speaking of Tesla, earlier this year, the EV company had to issue a recall for about 579,000 vehicles because the novelty “Boombox” feature was obscuring the pedestrian alert sound. Tesla being Tesla went a little too far, allowing vehicle owners to select goat bleats and DJ horns to alert pedestrians.