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A Little Too Quiet?: NHTSA Requires Hybrid, Electric Cars to Turn Up the Volume

By: Bridget Clerkin December 15, 2016
Electric and hybrid cars may be dangerously quiet, according to the NHTSA.

The right to remain silent is a bedrock of our criminal law, freeing anyone escorted away in handcuffs from the possibility of potentially indicting themselves. That is, unless the infringement in question is sneaking up on pedestrians.

All newly-manufactured hybrid and electric cars must make more noise when driving below a certain speed, according to a press release from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The unusual rule is intended to help those crossing the street—specifically blind or vision-impaired walkers—when the quiet cars are on the road, according to the government agency.

As the market for more gas-efficient vehicles steadily rose over the years, the regulatory silence on the lack-of-sound issue was deafening for advocacy groups like the National Federation of the Blind. But a pedestrian safety law passed by Congress in 2010 allowed the groups to call for—and the NHTSA to create—the new noise requirement.

Under the rule, vehicles in question must make noise while driving up to 19 miles per hour. While not specifying which sounds, exactly, the cars should make, any higher speed would produce enough natural wind and tire noise to safely alert pedestrians of an oncoming vehicle, according to the NTHSA statement.

The provision may seem small, but it could help prevent upwards of 2,400 pedestrian injuries a year, the NHTSA said. Car manufacturers have until 2019 to get their vehicles up to speed.

Still, it’s not the first time that car makers have taken the page from so many scoreboards and asked their vehicles to “Make some noise!” The purr of an engine and growl of an accelerator are some of the most viscerally pleasing aspects of driving—ones that those behind the wheel of hybrid sports cars have complained about losing out on in the past. Listening to their customers, some manufactures have taken to injecting artificial engine sounds into their naturally quieter models.

But with the increasing amount of human decisions cars are being asked to make, is it only a matter of time before our vehicles get their own set of Miranda Rights?

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