By the time the United States reaches President Obama's goal of 1 million electric vehicles by 2015, the collective sound generated by all those whisper-quiet electric motors will be substantially louder, thanks to legislation the president recently signed.
The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act directs the Secretary of Transportation to study and establish a motor vehicle safety standard that provides for a means of alerting blind and other pedestrians of motor vehicle operation.
If you've ever driven in or witnessed an electric car or hybrid-electric vehicle moving around one of the first things you probably noticed was the noise — or lack thereof. Now imagine being blind and living in a city full of EVs zipping through the streets.
"The blind, like all pedestrians, must be able to travel to work, to school, to church, and to other places in our communities, and we must be able to hear vehicles in order to do so," said Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind.
“Our position was, let’s get out in front of this before it’s situation where people are being injured,” says Chris Danielsen, spokesperson for the National Federation of the Blind.
NHTSA has 18 months to start the regulatory process and another 18 months to get through it; then there’s an implementation period for auto manufacturers that could be three years.
Auto companies are experimenting with different possible sounds to install in EVs. There may even come the time when EV owners can customize the sound their car makes, much like people customize ringtones today. I like the idea of customized EV sounds as long as the day does not come when I hear the roar of a Tesla Roadster as 50 Cent's "In Da Club" — which is apparently one of the most popular ringtones of all time. Check out this short video of one of the sounds the Nissan LEAF is experimenting with: