Nissan, Toyota hybrids, EVs to sound alerts in U.S.

NHTSA to draft law protecting pedestrians from 'quiet' vehicles

by Puneet Kollipara and Alan Ohnsman

Bloomberg

Nissan Motor Co., General Motors Co. and other makers of electric and hybrid vehicles will be required by U.S. safety regulators to install warning systems that will automatically sound alerts to pedestrians.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and advocates for the blind have raised concerns for several years about safety risks to pedestrians posed by hybrid and electric vehicles that make little engine noise.

“Even as we make giant leaps forward with hybrid and electric vehicles, we must remain laser-focused on safety,” NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said in a statement Thursday announcing the start of a rule-making process. “With more and more quiet vehicles on the road, we have to consider their effect on pedestrians.”

Japan in 2010 recommended that sound alerts be required on hybrids that can run exclusively on electric motors, electric vehicles and fuel-cell vehicles.

NHTSA by law must write a standard by July 4, 2012, for an alert system that doesn’t require action by a driver or pedestrian to activate it, the agency said in a notice published on its website Thursday. All vehicles of the same make and model must have the same alert sound, the notice said.

GM’s Chevy Volt and Nissan’s Leaf, both plug-in electric vehicles, offer sound-alert systems. The Volt’s is activated when the driver pulls the turn-signal handle, according to the NHTSA notice and GM’s website.

Nissan’s new Infiniti M hybrid sedan also has audible alerts, said Jeannine Ginivan, a spokeswoman for the automaker.

“As NHTSA moves toward regulation, Nissan will analyze the details of NHTSA’s proposal and submit any appropriate comments to the agency after evaluation,” she said.

Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s biggest seller of hybrid electric autos, later this year will include an audible pedestrian alert on its new Prius v wagon that engages when the car runs at low speed on battery power.

“Toyota has been cooperative with NHTSA, providing input on their research,” said Cindy Knight, a Washington-based spokeswoman for the carmaker. Toyota has also sought input on the issue from the National Federation of the Blind for the past four years, she said.

Along with the Prius v, Toyota will be adding audible alerts to other new hybrid and battery-powered models, “ahead of any regulatory action,” Knight said.

Ford Motor Co. is developing sounds for its 2012 Focus electric model, set to be introduced later this year, through steps that include running a poll on Facebook to solicit feedback, Wes Sherwood, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail.

NHTSA said its regulation will cover light and low-speed vehicles, motorcycles, buses and heavy-duty trucks.

A final rule must be published by Jan. 4, 2014.