Products Liability Law Daily NHTSA proposes adjustment to sound limitations in ‘Quiet Vehicles’ safety standard
Tuesday, September 17, 2019

NHTSA proposes adjustment to sound limitations in ‘Quiet Vehicles’ safety standard

By Colleen Kave, J.D.

Industry stakeholders request provision for choice of pedestrian alert sounds.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a proposal to amend Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 141, Minimum Sound Requirements for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles, to allow manufacturers of hybrid and electric vehicles (HEVs) to install a number of driver-selectable pedestrian alert sounds in each HEV they manufacture. This proposal responds to a petition for reconsideration of the FMVSS No. 141 final rule published in December 2016 [see Products Liability Law Daily’s December 14, 2016 analysis]. Comments on the proposed rule are due by November 1, 2019 (NHTSA Proposed Rule84 FR 48866, September 17, 2019).

Currently, FMVSS No. 141, which was promulgated pursuant to the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act (PSEA) of 2010, provides that vehicles of the same make, model, model year, and trim level must have the same pedestrian alert sound. NHTSA interpreted certain language in the PSEA to mean that a manufacturer may choose to equip a vehicle with different sounds for different operating modes, including stationary, reverse, and forward at 10 km/h, 20 km/h, and 30 km/h. However, NHTSA did not interpret this language to mean that vehicles can be equipped with more than one alert sound for a given operating condition and speed. Consequently, FMVSS No. 141 does not permit a vehicle to have multiple sounds per operating mode from which the driver can choose. Instead, the standard requires that any two vehicles of the same make and model to which the standard applies must have the same alert sound when operating under the same test conditions and the same speed.

In January 2017, NHTSA received a joint petition for reconsideration of the FMVSS No. 141 final rule from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (Alliance) and Global Automakers (Global), the two main automotive industry groups in the United States representing most light vehicle manufacturers. The petition requested several amendments, including the removal of the one-sound-per-vehicle restriction. According to Alliance/Global, providing consumers a choice of sounds is important for consumer acceptance of future HEVs that will have pedestrian alert sounds in compliance with FMVSS No. 141.

Accordingly, under the proposal, the current limitation of one sound per vehicle would be removed, thus allowing manufacturers to equip HEVs with a suite of several pedestrian alert sounds from which the driver can choose. The agency views the proposed rule as deregulatory in nature and expects the changes to generate benefits and cost savings in excess of costs. The proposed rule provides manufacturers with more flexibility and options in developing and installing sounds for their HEVs. NHTSA is requesting comments on whether there should be a limit to the number of compliant sounds that a manufacturer can install in a vehicle and what that limit should be.

The proposal also includes a technical change to section S6.7 of FMVSS No. 141 relating to ambient noise correction procedures, and corrects two dates in the standard’s phase-in reporting requirements.

MainStory: TopStory ProposedRules MotorVehiclesNews

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