It's a requirement that many such vehicles will already meet, but the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has now detailed just what sort of sounds all hybrids and EVs will have to make when they're travelling at speeds under 18 miles per hour. Namely, they'll have to make a sound that's loud enough to be heard over ambient city noise, that changes to match the vehicle's speed, and that also remains audible as the vehicle is idling.

The agency isn't requiring any one specific sound, however, and says that automakers will have a "significant range of choices" available to them -- they will be required to use the same set of sounds for each vehicle of the same make and model, though. The new rules also won't be enforced anytime soon; today only marks the beginning of a 60-day comment period, with a three-year phase in period set to start in September of 2015 if all goes as planned. You can check out a few sample sounds that the NHTSA has provided at the source link, and find the official announcement after the break.

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U.S. Department of Transportation Proposes New Minimum Sound Requirements for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles
Monday, January 7, 2013

Proposal Would Allow All Pedestrians to Detect Vehicles that Do Not Make Sound

WASHINGTON – As required by the bipartisan Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 (PSEA), the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is proposing that hybrid and electric vehicles meet minimum sound standards in order to help make all pedestrians more aware of the approaching vehicles.

"Safety is our highest priority, and this proposal will help keep everyone using our nation's streets and roadways safe, whether they are motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians, and especially the blind and visually impaired," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Electric and hybrid vehicles do not rely on traditional gas or diesel-powered engines at low speeds, making them much quieter and their approach difficult to detect. The proposed standard, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 141, would fulfill Congress' mandate in the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act that hybrid and electric vehicles meet minimum sound requirements so that pedestrians are able to detect the presence, direction and location of these vehicles when they are operating at low speeds.

"Our proposal would allow manufacturers the flexibility to design different sounds for different makes and models while still providing an opportunity for pedestrians, bicyclists and the visually impaired to detect and recognize a vehicle and make a decision about whether it is safe to cross the street," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.

The sounds would need to be detectable under a wide range of street noises and other ambient background sounds when the vehicle is traveling under 18 miles per hour. At 18 miles per hour and above, vehicles make sufficient noise to allow pedestrians and bicyclists to detect them without added sound. Each automaker would have a significant range of choices about the sounds it chooses for its vehicles, but the characteristics of those sounds would need to meet certain minimum requirements. In addition, each vehicle of the same make and model would need to emit the same sound or set of sounds.

NHTSA estimates that if this proposal were implemented there would be 2,800 fewer pedestrian and pedalcyclist injuries over the life of each model year of hybrid cars, trucks and vans and low speed vehicles, as compared to vehicles without sound.

NHTSA will send the proposal to the Federal Register today. Upon publication, the public will have 60 days to submit comments on this NHTSA action.

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NHTSA details new sound requirements for hybrids and EVs travelling under 18 mph