back to article US lawmakers to de-silence electric cars

A bill that will require electric and hybrid cars to make enough noise so that blind folks can hear them coming has been introduced in the US Senate. The bill, S. 841 - more pedestrian-ly known as the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 - doesn't specifically mention adding noise to otherwise silent vehicles. It merely …


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  1. Eddy Ito Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    No really!

    It isn't about money, it's about safety, honest. So what if folks will soon get tickets for being too loud and too quiet based on the silk purse of a LEO's ear. If you can't decide if your car sounds "just right" don't ask Solomon, call Goldilocks. How long before there is a sound requirement for power wheelchairs, bicyclists and stupid pedestrians.

  2. raving angry loony


    So instead of nice quiet environments where the blind can actually listen for the quiet hiss of tires on the road, we'll be stuck with the equivalent of ringtones for cars, all blaring at each other and making so much racket that the blind won't be able to distinguish a car from a nearby cellphone.

    Joy. More noise.

  3. ratfox Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Jesus H Christ

    Bicycles have existed for centuries without that being a problem...

    Most cars can be really silent too.

    PH, because even she knows when to shut up.

  4. Michael

    recalls the old guy on "family guy"

  5. Maxime Rainville

    Dumb question

    How many blind people (if any) got run over by an electric car or an hybrid in the US because those vehicule were not noisy enough?

    And is that number significant enough to impose an extra regulation?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Next time I cycle to work Im going to shout broom broom at everyone I pass.

    Then Im getting a g-wizz, big stereo, amp and speakers and a CD of V8 engines being revved... try and judge my speed now!

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Silence is golden

    One of the things I was looking forward to the most about electric cars was the absence of noise (having suffered traffic noise for far longer than I care to remember).

    Why make every single electric car make noise all of the time, just on the off chance that there may be blind person around?

    Couldn't they instead add a device to all electric cars that emits a generic silent signal that when picked up by a small receiver (wrist band or lanyard / pendant) emits a tone that varies depending on the distance, speed (and number) of electric vehicles.

    Also, unless the electric cars are floating, they'll still be making road / tyre noise anyway.

  8. OmniCitadel

    Let me get this strait

    My motor cycle is illegal cause its too loud now they are bitching and moaning about a mode of transportation thats too quiet?

  9. Paul
    Thumb Up

    More for the transition period

    I can see peoples points if we immediately went from all internal combustion engined cars to electric ones but that's not going happen and I can understand the trepidation of blind people trying to cross the road when 50% of the cars are loud and 50% are a lot quieter. As these sound systems will probably use loudspeakers and so be adjustable it should be possible to come up with a system that reduces the volume as the proportion of electric vehicles increases.

    Also how many people here have started to cross the road without really looking but have stopped because they heard a car coming? Silent electric cars will increase the number of 'I didn't see it coming' incidents.

    So I'm in favour just as long as the sound is similar for all cars, such as artificial engine noise, and that people are not allowed to replace it with the crazy frog.

  10. Anonymous Scotsman

    Bicycles etc

    To the bicycle comment, there are two major differences to the lec situation.

    1. There is significantly more visual interaction *possible* for the driver of a bike than a car.

    2. It's less obtrusive and not so regulated by law to ring a small bell attached to the tiller. Horn honking in a crowded street (i.e. Glasgow central) is, at the least, likely to get a few eggs thrown at you.

    I for one approve of this though, so long as I can have a small (discrete) noise maker that replicates the futurama hovercars' pleasant audio signature.

  11. Filippo

    @Dumb question

    What? Asking for proof that regulation is needed before imposing it?!? What nonsense!

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Oh Dear God!

    One of the stupidest laws ever. Blind people should be crossing at designated crossings only. We have many precedents of crossings being built for the blind and elderly, near their residences and near service centres/buildings/malls etc. Don't modify perfectly good cars - instead legislate for crossing design which suits all vehicle types (including bicycles) and provides for safety even if a noisemaker should fail or for a blind person who's also a bit deaf.

    Is there no end to the stupidity our species can produce?

  13. SuperTim

    I think it is a good idea, but

    I dont want it to turn into the ringtone fiasco that has blighted our lives.

    If i had a leccy car i would like it to have to option of a good ol' V8 or even a special "french connection" setting that make you sound like you are driving in a car chase, even if you are travelling at a sedate 20mph.

    i dont want any old snot-nosed punk to download some rediculous drum n bass track and "thump thump" his way around town.

  14. David

    Defeats the object

    Rather defeats the object of the exercise, doesn't it? Nice, environmentally-friendly car that makes a non-environmentally-friendly noise? Hmm........dread to think what might happen if tech-savvy kids manage to pimp up their leccy cars. It's bad enough now, with their so-called car hi-fi booming away, with the doors bulging outwards on every bass note!

    There has to be a better way - some sort of transmitter/receiver device to say where the car is for blind folk maybe, although I suppose if there were loads of leccy cars in the area, that wouldn't work. Doh! In any case, can blind people tell where all the conventional vehicles are in the street? Would all the leccy cars sound the same? That could be confusing. Have they had problems in the past locating silent cycles or existing electric vehicles?

    Sounds like some politician is trying to make a name for themselves.

  15. Nigel Whitfield

    Crossing signals

    Don't pedestrian crossings make noises, like the ones in the UK do? If they don't, surely that would be the most sensible way to tackle the problem.

    Yes, there are places where people may want to cross and no crossing to help, but that happens now, with hazards like bicycles and other pedestrians. If you can't find a friendly person to help, then surely you wait until it's quiet, and people on a bike ring their bell. Electric car drivers can toot their horn.

  16. paulc
    Thumb Down

    dying gasp of the petrol dinosaurs...

    ordinary internal combustion engined cars are pretty quiet as well these days, but any move to delay electric cars by a few years keeps the oil business in control a few years longer.

    What's the bets they'll want electric cars to go peep. peep, peep like electric forklifts have to do when in motion

    anyway, I thought this was the 21st centurey? why haven't the blind been fitted up with 3D sonar headsets yet so they can tell what's close and also let the headset do the detection of things close by giveaway noises like tyres on asphalt...

  17. storng.bare.durid
    Thumb Down


    No. Just Flipping stupid.

    Car noise is annoying enough as it stands, why scupper attempts at silencing them?

    There are other alternatives.

    1. Equip all 'deemed silent' cars with a radio emitter.

    2. If you care about hearing them, you can go get a receiver that will give you a proximity alert. Blind people could get this heavily subsidized/free from the government.

    3. Even better - build this alert device into some sort of high visibility jacket with LEDs which could flash at a certain proximity etc.

    4. This would even benefit deaf and blind people. Rig the receiver to a vibrating alert.

  18. Fluffykins Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    oooh look

    I've invented a HORN

    Wonder if that could be used - you know, to provided autible warning of approach.

    Now we just make it sound all the time, 'cos yanks would be too stupid to know when to sound it.

    Richest third world nation on the planet.

    Paris. Horn. 'nuff said

  19. SminkyBazzA
    Thumb Up

    sod personalised number plates...

    Methinks this is going to bring a whole new meaning to the phrase "mobile ringtones"... I want mine to sound like its running on a Merlin 45 Spitfire engine please!

    I witnessed my first silent-running Prius a couple of weeks ago, pulling away from the curb a few metres from me (admittedly in a busy town centre) and if I hadn't been looking at it I would never have expected it to move.

    Also, cyclists tend not to weigh a ton, although I imagine we can shout louder.

  20. Steve Browne


    There has been a requirement for any vehicle, including cycles, to warn of their presence. Horns are installed into cars for a reason, and it isn't so lazy taxi drivers can call their customers.

    Cycles are required to have a bell for this purpose, ratfox.

  21. Paul


    honk the bloody HORN!!!

  22. Steven Jones

    @Maxime Rainville

    It's worth doing a bit of research on this first - it isn't just blind people who are affected, it is ordinary pedestrians, the elderly, children. Tests have been done on this - people are adapted and evolved to use all their senses to detect danger. The tests that have been done show that this is only a problem below about 20 miles/30 km per hour. Above that speed, road noise suffices and nobody is suggesting intrusive noises - we aren't going to have cars with sirens or the type of warning beeps they put on reversing lorries. Something that beams a bit of noise in a forward direction suggesting of a moving object would do the job. Given that this would have a trivial effect on the cost of any electric car, it's hardly a big imposition to make.

    As for the person who suggested it is not a problem for bicycles - well yes it is. I know when I'm out and about on a bike I have to be specially wary of pedestrians that haven't noticed me and can't hear me. It's a particular problem on shared use routes. That's why I have a bell on my bike (shouting at a pedestrian is a lot more intrusive and aggressive sounding than letting one know gently by an appropriate audible warning). Also, being hit be a bicycle is likely to be far less damaging than a car. Bicycle have not been around for "centuries" - the modern safety cycle only came about in 1885, and even the "high-wheel" only went back to the 1860s and were very rare; prior to that velocipedes were just toys and barely count. In any event, bicycles really required good road surfaces which simply didn't exist centuries before.

  23. wildmonkeyuk
    Paris Hilton


    Just give the electric cars a half decent speaker system and a CD of V8 noises they can play while driving about :)

    Paris... Well she knows how to drive us all crazy ;)

  24. Xris Middleton

    RE: Most

    "nice quiet environments where the blind can actually listen for the quiet hiss of tires on the road,"

    Not all cars are going to suddenly become electric over night; there will be a mix of electric and combustible vehicles, making plenty of noise, occupying the roads. Of course once all the oil runs out this will cease to be a problem.

    "Bicycles have existed for centuries without that being a problem..."

    Because if a bicycles hits you at 15ish mph the chance of it doing serious bodily harm is low. Also they have a smaller profile and I’m pretty sure the rider takes more notice of who steps in front of him giving him time to manoeuvre.

    "How many blind people (if any) got run over by an electric car or an hybrid in the US"

    What percentage of vehicles in the US are silent electric? As this figure grows then surely the number of auto accidents will increase as well. How many blind people are we allowed to run over before we decide to do something about it, 56?

    Why is preventative action that will protect people that have a disability been shouted down?

  25. Simon Neill


    @Bicycles have existed for centuries without that being a problem...

    Bikes can't go 60mph and don't mass significantly more than a person.

    Also, all cars these days already come with a device to prevent injury to pedestrians. It's called the brakes and they can be operated by the driver with ease.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Mysterious lack of evidence

    - I live near Berkeley, California, where it seems like every third or fourth car is a Prius.

    - I also live less than 2 miles from a school for the blind.

    - I have yet to read a single article about a blind person being hit and having it confirmed that it was because they couldn't hear the car.

    So as many have noted, it is a solution in search of a problem.

    @Xris: The difficulty is that legislators want to take action that will affect everyone owning a hybrid or electric car, without any proof that there's a problem. I live near San Francisco. The hills there are a danger to those in wheelchairs. Shall we bulldoze them all to protect the disabled, or should we first do some research and determine how much of a problem it is? What about putting gateways across all staircases in the country to protect those who are both blind and wheelchair-bound? I am perfectly willing to put up with some inconvenience if there's a proven issue (wheelchair ramps increase my taxes a bit, but make perfect sense). But to scream, "There may be an issue here! Let's DO something instead of researching the problem first!" is the worst kind of government.

  27. Matt Caldwell

    Go for it...

    I for one am all for this, if it is done right (which it wouldn't be anyway, if it gets passed at all, which I'm not gonna bet on). I'm a perfectly sighted and well hearing person, but I've almost been run over by electrics a couple times. Like yesterday for oxample....

    11pm, just got off work. I'm walking through the parking garage. A car pulls out of the spot I was just about to step in front of. They couldn't have seen me, I was just coming from behind the other car Their lighst were still off. Engine made no noise. Just pulled out.

    We're trained to use our ears at least as much as our eyes in avoiding cars.

  28. Murray Pearson

    This isn't a new problem

    When the Pennsylvania Railroad introduced their sleek brown electric locomotives in the 1930s they painted a brilliant gold stripe on them. It wasn't just for aesthetics, it was for safety; the stripe was intended to heliograph and catch the attention of rail workers on the tracks who were accustomed to hearing great thundering steam locomotives from miles off and simply didn't notice the 'leccy locos bearing down on them at 60 mph.

    Personally, I'd say the solution is to change the laws to make drivers explicitly responsible for pedestrian fatalities they cause, with colossal penalties. That'll cause responsible drivers to PAY ATTENTION DAMMIT and eliminate the irresponsible ones.

  29. Haku


    You know what this means?

    The ability to have a car that looks AND sounds like KITT - just make it electric and add in your own digitised sounds from the tv show :D

  30. A

    How very PC

    Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act = PEA C = PC geddit? ;)

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Root Cause

    Someone complained in San Francisco that electric cars were too quiet so now the whole country has to be punished.

  32. Christopher Martin

    A legislator should be severely beaten every time he proposes a law

    That'd make 'em think long and hard about whether they're actually worthwhile. Maybe they'd finally stop wasting everyone's time.

    "How many blind people (if any) got run over by an electric car or an hybrid in the US because those vehicule were not noisy enough?" - Irrelevant. I'm pretty sure laws are based on how they appear at first glance to voters - what makes you think they would be judged by any real data on their utility?

    Seriously, though, folks, let's propose a thought experiment. Suppose the car's initial invention had been electric, and loud rumbly engines had never existed. Would anyone have thought about mandating that they make noise for safety? Or are we just thinking about it now because the noise is what we're used to?

    The vehicles that are required to make noise are big trucks when backing up - presumably because the driver can't see where he's going. Other drivers can see, so unless blind people are driving, or are in the habit of darting out at random into the road, maybe the solution is a kind reminder not to drive into pedestrians at crossing points.

  33. mr.K

    As if smell and sound are the only options

    What about taste? It might be a little tricky to implement, but I am sure it can be done if we put enough money into it.

    Personally I vote for heat. Put a big thorch on top of the cars, and make it hot enough so that one can feel it at least 500m away. The power consumption might of course put a slight drain on the batteries, but that is solveable. You can just fuel it with oil.

    You could of course try thouch, but that might defeat the purpose since thouch is what you try to avoid.

    On a sidenote, give them a dog instead. I bet the cost of providing every single blind person with a dog is a cheaper alternative if you add all the costs of implementing the regulation, administrating the regulation, the extra euipment needed, the extra power it would consume, the reduced health of the public exposed this noise etc etc.

    Yes, that is my coat. Why do you ask?

  34. Fatman Silver badge

    US poloticos to de-silence electric cars

    This kind of reminds me of the time when automobiles first came on the scene. Some intellectually challenged politicos actually required someone to WALK in front of a automobile carrying a lantern to warn people.

    This is just more of that same old thinking.

    God help us all.

    I have to ask, are there not MORE IMPORTANT things to concern Congress???

  35. James O'Brien

    @a few commenters here

    @Bikes can't go 60mph

    I average about 35-40 mph on my bike and have topped at 65 going down a long hill so umm yeah you fail on that comment.

    On a side note going over 50+ is damn exciting on a bike cause you know if you wipe your going to have the worst case of road rash ever :) Also I have run over people when going at 35 not because I tried, but because they were idiots and decided to jaywalk infront of me when I had the right of way. Yeah they got flattened.

    @Rig the receiver to a vibrating alert.

    So are the women going to get a custom one that they can hide discretely but still be notified of a coming (no pun intended....or maybe there was?) car? This thought reminds me of the scene on Orgasmo where the little old lady starts humping her walker...god that was a funny scene.

    @Cycles are required to have a bell for this purpose, ratfox.

    I dont have a bell because it seems lame to go ring ring ring on a road bike that is around $2500 :)

  36. Thomas Steven

    How about touch?

    Might be a bit late by that time, but technically doesn't it meet the spec?

  37. Anonymous Coward

    Free idea

    I'm going to toss this out to the masses for deep consideration: The solution involves a duck call ($8.00 US) and I can tell you from personal experience, they get louder and more annoying, the faster one goes. Things tend to go very bad at speeds over 120 mph, though; somehow I don't think most owners of electrics will need to worry about it.

    Hell, it's worth the $8.00 just to see the look on peoples faces when you pass them.

  38. Alan Esworthy


    Given the ratio of blind pedestrians to vehicles on the road, wouldn't it be cheaper to issue each blind person a small radar set?

    If electric vehicles simply *must* make noise, just attach a playing card to a brake caliper bracket with a clothes pin so the card goes clackety-clack against the wheel spokes. Or perhaps a sound system with an external speaker to play back recordings of politicians' campaign speeches wherein they promise to fight against big intrusive nanny-state government.

    ...mine's the one with the huge book in the pocket, "Famous Kept Campaign Promises."

  39. Nick Kew Silver badge

    noise? what noise?

    How is this noise - or any other such as the bell or horn - going to alert the deaf person?

    Anyone in charge of a vehicle - from cyclist to juggernaut - has a duty of care to more vulnerable people, including all pedestrians. You don't generally know if a person is blind and/or deaf. Or might suffer some other condition such as a faint or an epileptic fit in front of you.

  40. Orv Silver badge

    Not a new proposal, really.

    Advocates for the blind have been pushing for this ever since the Prius appeared on the scene; this isn't something that Congress thought up on their own. I'm generally in favor of the idea. It's not like it has to be particularly loud, just enough to replace the sound of a well-muffled engine at near-idle speeds.

    Alternatively, I suppose we could take the bicycle solution and force every driver to lean out the window and shout "ON YOUR LEFT!" every time they approach a pedestrian. ;)

  41. John Tserkezis

    Easy fix

    Bring back the playing card and clothes peg against the spokes of a bicycle wheel sound.

    Costs the manufacturer very little, the end user very little, and the idiot politicians nothing.

    If the stupid pollies want a stupid solution, that's would be it.

    (Yah! Bring it back!)

  42. Pablo

    @AC 13:26

    Hardly a balanced sample. Berkeley drivers stop for pedestrians.

  43. JK


    People aren't supposed to blindly cross the road in the first place (ha ha, pun), they're supposed to wait at cross walks and then cross. And what do the blind do, cross the road until they hear a noise, then decide whether to turn around or keep going? I mean, it sounds like the only reasonable legislation would require people put on those macho-man sports mufflers on every car, so that you could hear a vehicle a few blocks down, thus buying your disabled, hobbling, blind grandmother enough time to cross the road. Instead of getting a fucking guide dog.

  44. JK

    additional hilarity

    ... being that this comes from John Kerry. So much for your champion of the environment.

    That, and the fact that he's affiliated with a carbon credit corporation. Ha ha ha.

  45. Hud Dunlap
    Thumb Up

    The noise is for the dogs

    It is so the seeing eye dogs can tell the car is running. Other wise they have no way to tell the difference between a parked car and one that is running. The biggest problem is at stop signs were there is no road noise.

    I am surprised we are not handling this the good old fashioned American way. Let a Tesla run over a seeing eye dog and his owner and then sue the company into the ground. That will fix it.

  46. Anonymous Coward

    @Murray Pearson

    > "Personally, I'd say the solution is to change the laws to make drivers explicitly responsible for pedestrian fatalities they cause, with colossal penalties. That'll cause responsible drivers to PAY ATTENTION DAMMIT and eliminate the irresponsible ones."

    You're kidding right? That's pretty much the way it is now in many countries - I can't see how the USA is that much different. A pedestrian can walk out from anywhere, anytime, and the driver has to stop or avoid, even if it means hitting something solid like a light pole and injuring themselves. Any failure is the driver's fault. A pedestrian could deliberately throw themselves onto the bonnet of your car and, as it stands, the burden of proof is on the driver to show how the 'accident' could not be avoided. No witnesses to confirm what the crazy/suicidal pedestrian did? Too bad, you're off to jail, son.

    This legal situation results in some pedestrians doing whatever they like whenever they like ON THE ROADS, such as cross without looking and hold up a hand as if that will instantly stop all traffic, or walking down the middle on the white line - and that's from sober people in the middle of the day!

    We do not need to make the driving laws or vehicle compliance laws ANY harder. What would be good - and something I argue for frequently - is tougher licensing standards and much better driver education, such as mandatory professional training (as opposed to being taught by Uncle Billy-Bob) and mandatory skid pan sessions. And I'd love to see a few more laws to stop pedestrians from being so bloody stupid on the roads.

  47. Joe Geer
    Paris Hilton

    Laws can bite you, choose well!

    Ah Statistics! Apparently, in 1994 1.3 million Americans were legally blind. 109,000 blind people seemingly use long canes. (We are all trained to stop for people with canes). Apparently, there are over 1,000,000 hybrid cars out there now, but growing. Also, one might argue that all cars are "out there" while some blind people chill at home mostly. So, it seems like it would be far cheaper to give blind people a proximity device to alert them to cars than to make cars squeal like pigs. My car is old and loud so I have no vested interest in this. BUT, I recall, in my neighborhood, that they passed a law removing the curb at all intersections so that non-existent (in my neighborhood) people in wheelchairs might not be impeded. Of course, at the same time, you yell at your running 4-year-old to "Stop at the curb" and "Don't run in the street" of course, they now just run in to the street on that very ramp created for the wheelchair-bound. In my neighborhood, there were many more toddlers at risk, and I have seen that happen. I'd sure like to NOT see that mistake repeated. No offense to blind people, I'm sure I'll be blind myself one day. Let's legislate a cool device to warn blind people of impending cars (Hey, and bicycles)! Paris, because she would run into the car because she was watching, well, perhaps her reflection?

  48. Herby Silver badge

    Obvious solution?

    Just have the electric vehicle emit the voice:

    "Danger Will Robinson".

    Pretty obvious if you ask me!

  49. This post has been deleted by its author

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I want to move to another planet

    I've had enough of the idiots on this one!

    If the 'leccy car *HAS* to make a noise then have it make a short trill, but only:

    a. when first moving off from a standstill; and,

    b. when the brakes are initially applied.

    As for any other audible warnings for the blind, make them ultrasonic and distinctive - audible to dogs only - and train the SEEING (!) eye dogs to respond accordingly.


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