NHTSA May Require Pre-2021 EVs, Hybrids to Retrofit Noise Makers for Safety

  • NHTSA has opened an investigation to determine whether EVs and hybrids dating back to 1997 should be required to emit the same audible pedestrian warning sounds that their more recent counterparts have.
  • The federal safety agency previously passed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 141, which requires all 2020 model year and newer electric and hybrid vehicles under 10,000 pounds to be equipped with a pedestrian warning sound.
  • If NHTSA decides to adopt a new requirement for older models, it could pose a logistical challenge, as an estimated 9.1 million vehicles could be on the recall list for a retrofitted pedestrian alert.

Among the ways they differ from traditional internal combustion engine vehicles, electric cars and hybrids don’t sound the same. They are quiet – and this can cause a safety problem. There’s been a law on the books for several years that requires new EVs and hybrids to be sold with a pedestrian warning sound on board. Now, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened a new investigation to determine whether EVs and hybrids dating back to 1997 should be required to have the same audible warning sounds that newer vehicles do.

The investigation is credited with starting a petition from an individual, filed in July 2022. The complaining citizen is asking for the new requirement, citing as backup the 2018 law (FMVSS 141) that requires EVs and hybrids under 10,000 pounds must be equipped with a pedestrian warning sound. The petition argues that it is wrong that hybrid and electric vehicles built earlier do not have to meet the same standard as the vehicles built later.

The law was created as a protection for visually impaired and blind people who depend on auditory cues when crossing streets. NHTSA documents note that this concern dates back at least as far as 2010, with the Pedestrian Safety Improvement Act of 2010, which became law in January 2011.

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NHTSA estimates that there are more than nine million hybrid and electric vehicles that do not have built-in audible warnings; all of them could potentially be subject to a retrofit rule, which is likely to pose logistical challenges for both automakers and the owners of the older vehicles.

Take the Takata airbag recall, where nearly 70 million airbags had to be replaced for safety reasons. For years, Honda and other automakers have sought owners of older models to bring in their vehicles for new airbags. The logistical lift required to track down each of more than nine million owners of hybrids and EVs dating back 26 years can be complicated and ultimately not quite complete. NHTSA declined to comment as the investigation is ongoing.

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Associate News Editor

Jack Fitzgerald’s love for cars stems from his still unwavering addiction to Formula 1.
After a short stint as a detailer for a local dealership group in college, he knew he needed a more permanent way to drive all the new cars he couldn’t afford and decided to pursue a career in car writing to follow. Chasing his college professors at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he was able to travel Wisconsin looking for stories in the automotive world before landing his dream job. Car and Driver. His new goal is to delay the inevitable demise of his 2010 Volkswagen Golf.