During the first half of the Drive for Innovation around-the-country drive in the Chevy Volt, the first conversations started stirring over one of the greatest features of electric and hybrid-electric vehicles: how quiet they are.
The problem is, they're apparently too quiet, at least for the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Earlier this year, the NHTSA proposed adding sounds to EV and PHEVs running below 18 mph (30 kph). (I'm not convinced a pure EV running faster than 18 mph makes enough tire noise to be considered safe either, but whatever.)
NHTSA, in announcing the public commenting period, 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."
For reference, there were 4,280 pedestrian fatalities (13 percent of total traffic fatalities) and 618 bicycle-car fatalities in 2010 (1.9 percent of total traffic fatalities), according to NHTSA data.
NHTSA's "preferred alternative" (one of several, including no action) "would establish minimum sound requirements within specific one-third octave band ranges between 160 and 5000 Hz for EVs and HVs at idle through 30 km/h, as well as when in reverse," according to the agency. Required sound levels would range from the low 40s dB (idle) to around 60 dB (at 18 mph). Another alternative favored by automotive manufacturers and used in Japan calls for sound up to 44 dB only on motion and only up to 12 mph (20 kph).
You knew this was coming. And in the age of the downloadable app, in the era of the ringtone, this presents a huge new opportunity for drivers to customize their EVs and PHEVs. Artificial engine noise would be so completely lame, but you have to figure that'll be an option.
But how about a lion growl? Elk bugle? Uncontrolled laughter? Chainsaw noise? How about easing into the school parking zone blaring "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's 9th? Driving into the parking lot at work with Mozart's Requiem?
How would you customize your car's sounds? Share your thoughts below.
Editor's note: This blog was originally posted on EBN sister site Drive For Innovation. Share your thoughts in the comments field.