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Carmakers agree to make electric cars noisier

2011_nissan_leaf.top.jpg by Peter Valdes-Dapena, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Automakers and advocates for the blind have agreed on a plan to address an unintended problem caused by electric and hybrid cars: They endanger sight-impaired and distracted pedestrians because they make no noise when running on electric power.

The groups joined together to present Congress with a proposal for minimum noise levels that future electric cars would have to make.

Sometimes even sighted pedestrians can be unaware of the cars' approach.

"As a person who walks my dog in Virginia, where there are no sidewalks, I've been startled by hybrid cars, too," said Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

A study done last year by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that hybrid cars tend to hit pedestrians more often than other cars in situations where the approaching car cannot be seen.

The AAM, along with the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, the American Council for the Blind and the National Federation for the Blind, presented Congress with suggested language that could become part of the Motor Safety Act of 2010, a bill now moving through Congress that would create a host of new auto safety rules.

The proposed language would have NHTSA create a new safety standard for electrically powered cars involving some sort of minimum sound required when operating at low speeds. At higher speeds, wind and tire noise are typically enough to make the car detectable.

The sound couldn't be just anything. For instance, vehicle owners would not be able to "customize" the sound of their car the same way they can download ringtones for cell phones. That's specifically prohibited in the proposed rule.

Instead, car manufacturers would provide an approved sound or set of sounds for a given make and model of car.

It would be up to NHTSA to set the minimum noise level a vehicle would have to make at givens speeds and to determine what sort of sounds would be allowed. The sounds would need to communicate something about the car's speed and acceleration, just as the sound of a rumbling gasoline engine does. To top of page

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