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NHTSA proposes engine noise requirements for hybrids

Imagine the commanding growl of a V-8 engine coming from a Toyota Prius, or the throaty roar of a sports car coming from a Nissan Leaf. Indeed, these are far-fetched comparisons, but they are examples of some of the sounds contemplated through a new proposal set forth by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in an effort to reduce the risk of pedestrians being injured by electric cars and hybrids.

Essentially, these vehicles create potential hazards for pedestrians, bicyclists and the visually impaired. At low speeds, (where electric motors are used) the cars are virtually silent, and the lack of identifiable sounds (such as the hum of an engine) could lead pedestrians to believe that no car is coming, especially in high density areas such as parking lots and certain intersections.

Because of this, the NHTSA is proposing that automakers meet minimum sound requirements to make people aware of that a car is nearby. According to numerous reports, manufacturers will have a wide range of flexibility in determining how electric motors will sound, but they must be heard above common street noises.

This may create problems for some consumers who see the quiet engines as a great selling point. To them, engine noise hampers the driving experience, and the risk to pedestrians is remote. Nevertheless, federal regulators believe that the benefit to public safety will likely outweigh any personal dissatisfaction with engine noise.

The proposal will receive comments before being amended and ultimately adopted, so we don't anticipate hearing Chevy Volts sounding like Camaros anytime soon.

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