Your Electric Vehicles Will Soon Make Artificial Music

2017 Toyota Prius Prime, electric vehicles

Whether you hate or love the quiet of an electric vehicle in motion, prepare for change. The NHTSA (National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration) has ruled that all hybrid and EVs must emit an artificial noise by the year 2019.

The decision comes after years of complaints that silent vehicles are a danger to pedestrians, cyclists, and the visually impaired.

Though regulations have quieted internal combustion-powered cars over the years, they still make enough noise for most to hear them. Now the NHTSA wants electric vehicles and alternative energy cars to provide the same warnings. As Car and Driver notes, the NHTSA’s ruling bolsters the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010, which was lobbied by SAE International and blind advocacy groups.

The law will impact vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds, meaning electric two and three-wheelers, and larger trucks won’t need to comply. As electric, autonomous trucks begin to occupy highways in the coming years, expect some amendments to the NHTSA’s law.

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Though the ruling won’t take effect until September 1, 2019, automakers will be forced to equip half of their electric and hybrid fleets with noise-emitting devices by September 2018. The NHTSA expects the law to cut down on 2,400 pedestrian injuries each year.

As for the devices themselves, automakers must install external speakers to make noise whenever the car is idling, moving up to 19 mph, or in reverse. NHTSA characterizes these “simple” noises as two or four tones between 315 and 5000 hertz, separated in one-third-octave intervals. Additionally, the volume must go up by three decibels for every 6-mph increase in speed. Electric cars must make the sounds between 47 and 67 decibels. Yes, it’s very specific.

To be incredibly thorough, the NHTSA did a wildlife analysis and found the added noise would be less than 1 decibel in urban and nonurban areas by 2035 (assuming hybrids and EVs represent 50 percent of all registered cars at that time). “Differences in sound levels of less than 3 decibels are generally not noticeable to humans,” the agency said.

All that to say electrific vehicles won’t start to sound like internal combustion cars, they’ll just start to sound like something before the end of the decade.