The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has indicated that it will require all-electric and electric hybrid vehicles to be equipped with devices that will sound an alert under certain conditions to alert pedestrians and the visually impaired of their presence.
The new rule was mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)and requires the NHTSA to “establish a standard requiring electric and hybrid vehicles to be equipped with a pedestrian alert sound system that would activate in certain vehicle operating conditions to aid visually-impaired and other pedestrians in detecting the presence, direction, location, and operation of those vehicles.”
In a statement, NHTSA administrator David Strickland said, “Even as we make giant leaps forward with hybrid and electric vehicles, we must remain laser focused on safety. With more and more quiet vehicles on the road, we have to consider their effect on pedestrians.”
Last year, similar guidelines for electric vehicles were issued in Japan. Unlike the NHTSA’s rule, which will cover all-electric and electric hybrid vehicles, the Japanese guidelines apply only to all-electric vehicles.
Concerns about the safety risk electric vehicles present to pedestrians and the visually impaired were initially voiced by the NHTSA in 2008. In a report released the following year, the agency found there was a higher rate of pedestrian accidents involving hybrid vehicles than those powered by conventional combustion engines.
A subsequent study, released in April 2010, found that all-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles present an even higher risk to pedestrians with visual impairments.
By law, the NHTSA has until July 4, 2012 to develop the standard for a passive alert system that doesn’t require a motorist or pedestrian to activate it. The agency then has until January 4, 2014 to publish the final rule.
According to the notice posted on the agency’s Web site, vehicles of the same make and model must be equipped with the same alert sound system.
Some automakers have preemptively equipped their electric hybrid and all-electric vehicles with pedestrian alert systems in anticipation of the new mandate. The Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric vehicle is equipped with a system that sounds an alert when the turn signal is activated.
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