Two years ago, President Obama signed the bipartisan Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010. This law required our National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to ensure that electric and hybrid car manufacturers add noises that alert the blind and other pedestrians of a nearby vehicle.
And yesterday, in fulfillment of this congressional requirement, NHTSA proposed minimum sound standards to help make all pedestrians--and bicyclists--more aware of the approaching vehicles.
Because hybrid and electric vehicles operate so quietly, particularly at low speeds, they are more difficult for pedestrians and cyclists to detect when a vehicle is coming. This problem is even bigger for the visually impaired who rely on sounds for guidance.
The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act sought to fix that, and yesterday's proposal is the result of NHTSA enthusiastically taking up the challenge. The proposal is now open to public comment for the next 60 days, so stay tuned for an update later this year.
Under the new standards, vehicle sounds would need to be detectable under a wide range of street noises and other background sounds when a vehicle is traveling slower than 18 miles per hour. At that speed and above, vehicles make sufficient noise to allow pedestrians and bicyclists to detect them without added sound.
As NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said, “Our proposal would allow manufacturers flexibility 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.”
NHTSA research estimates that this proposal, if implemented, would result in 2,800 fewer pedestrian and cyclist injuries over the life of each model year of future hybrid cars, trucks and vans and low speed vehicles, as compared to vehicles without sound.
But because yesterday's announcement is a proposal, it is open to public comment for the next 60 days. So stay tuned for an update later this year.
This proposal is just the latest in DOT's ongoing effort to make America's roads safer for everyone who uses them. Whether it's improved features like wider medians and bike-pedestrian paths, or raising awareness through programs like Safe Routes to School, DOT professionals come to work each day thinking about our number one priority--safety.