Pedestrian protection is the driving force behind a federal “quiet car” safety standard adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that will require an audible alert on all newly manufactured light-duty hybrid vehicles (HVs) and electric vehicles (EVs).
The new federal standard “will help pedestrians who are blind, have low vision and other pedestrians detect the presence, direction and location of these vehicles when they are travelling at low speeds,” notes a statement this week from the NHTSA.
The aforementioned vehicles “tend to be quieter than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles,” states the rule’s final environmental assessment.
As such, the new requirements seek to aid visually impaired and other pedestrians in detecting vehicle presence, direction, location and operation, the assessment adds.
The hope is that Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 141 – NHTSA’s response to Congress’ efforts to ensure related requirements in line with the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010, PSEA – will “help prevent about 2,400 pedestrian injuries each year once all hybrids in the fleet are properly equipped.”
The 2,401 estimated pedestrian injuries expected to be avoided equates “to 32 equivalent lives saved over the lifecycle of the 2020 model year vehicle fleet,” reports the final rule. “Comparing the monetized benefits associated with those equivalent lives saved to the estimated cost of complying with this final rule,” it points out that “this final rule is cost beneficial.”
The need for HVs and EVs with four wheels and a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds (4,536 kg) or less to make audible noise will apply when travelling in reverse or forward at speeds up to 30 km/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,” the NHTSA notes.
HVs weighing 10,000 pounds or less “are 1.18 times more likely than an ICE vehicle to be involved in a collision with a pedestrian and 1.51 times more likely to be involved in a collision with a pedalcyclist,” the final rule states.
The PSEA “mandates that the new performance requirement enable a pedestrian to reasonably detect a nearby EV or HV operating at constant speed, accelerating, decelerating and operating in any other scenarios that NHTSA deems appropriate,” the environmental assessment notes.
It further adds that the act requires the added sound must be “recognizable” as that of a motor vehicle in operation.
Come Sept. 1, 2019, vehicle manufacturers will need to equip all new HVs and EVs with sounds that meet the new federal safety standard. Half of these new vehicles must be in compliance a year before the final deadline, NHTSA adds.
“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,” U.S. transportation secretary Anthony Foxx says in the NHTSA statement.
“With pedestrian fatalities on the rise, it is vitally important we take every action to protect the most vulnerable road users,” NHTSA administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind points out.
“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,” says Eric Bridges, executive director of the American Council of the Blind.
The full implementation of the PSEA “will protect all pedestrians, especially the blind, as well as cyclists,” Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, adds in the statement.