Among the many things that set hybrid and electric cars apart from conventional fuel sippers is their silence; aside from some eerie electronic whirring, many models glide stealthily down the street. Not for long, however. After years of delays, the U.S. Department of Transportation has finalized rules that require electric vehicles and hybrids to emit sounds to alert pedestrians of their approach.

The ruling has been a long time coming. A version was first proposed by Congress in 2010, and automakers have until September of 2020 to comply with the mandate; 50 percent of an automakers’ fleet must have the feature by September 2019. When electric and hybrid vehicles are moving at speeds of up to 18.6 miles per hour, they will have to emit a warning sound; the goal is to help prevent injuries among pedestrians, cyclists and the blind. According to regulators, the warning is not needed at higher speeds because tire and wind noise make enough of a racket to announce the vehicle.

Exactly what type of noise will be added to hybrids and electrics? That part is open to discussion. In the ruling, regulators said they will consider a request from automakers to allow them to include multiple sounds so owners could select a preference.

With the U.S. pedestrian injury and death rate continuing to rise, the need for safety measures is apparent, and the risks are higher with quiet vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the odds of a hybrid vehicle being involved in a pedestrian crash are 1.18 times higher than with a traditional gasoline-powered vehicle.

The sound feature won’t come cheap, but it will prevent injuries and save lives, according to NHTSA. It estimates the rules will cost the auto industry about $40 million annually due to the need for an external waterproof speaker. The agency also estimates that the mandate will prevent 2,400 injuries annually by 2020, and according to Automotive News puts the benefits of the reduced injuries at an estimated $250 million to $320 million savings annually.




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