Should Electric Motorcycles Sound Like Cards In Their Spokes?

Zero Electic Motorcycles

These Zero electric motorcycles might need playing cards in their spokes.

Every kid who has ever dreamed of riding a motorcycle has at least considered the option of attaching playing cards to their bicycle wheels so the spokes will hit them and make “motorcycle-like” noises. I know I did more than just consider it.

Is that what we need to do with electric motorcycles? After all, they’re so quiet pedestrians are likely to walk out in front of them while busy texting on their smart phones.

This is a serious question, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) wants to know what you think about it. No, not the playing cards, but should electric motorcycles be required to make some noise that warns people that they’re there?

The proposed rule is titled, “Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; Minimum Sound Requirements for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles.” Here’s part of it:

As required by the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act (PSEA) of 2010 this rule proposes to establish a Federal motor vehicle safety standard (FMVSS) setting minimum sound requirements for hybrid and electric vehicles. This new standard would require hybrid and electric passenger cars, light trucks and vans (LTVs), medium and heavy duty, trucks, and buses, low speed vehicles (LSVs), and motorcycles to produce sounds meeting the requirements of this standard.

This standard would ensure that blind, visually-impaired, and other pedestrians are able to detect and recognize nearby hybrid and electric vehicles, as required by the PSEA, by requiring that hybrid and electric vehicles emit sound that pedestrians would be able to hear in a range of ambient environments and contain acoustic signal content that pedestrians will recognize as being emitted from a vehicle.

So the NHTSA is asking for comments. The Motorcycle Industry Council has come out against the rule, for a variety of reasons that I don’t find particularly compelling. Not that I support the rule; I just don’t think the MIC has made much of an argument.

So what do other people think? Well, conveniently, the (currently) 80 comments are all right there for anyone to read, so let’s read a few.

Kipling Inscore (is that his name?) says, in part:

I do not believe that current study shows sufficient evidence of a safety problem caused by electric (EV) and hybrid (HV) vehicles being too quiet; I think further study is needed. I will, however, state my remaining points as if assuming that there is a “quiet vehicle problem” and that the solution is to impose a minimum sound requirement. A minimum sound requirement should apply to all motor vehicles, not just those currently most likely to be too quiet.

Now there’s a familiar argument. Funny, I’m accustomed to seeing it presented in regard to the issue of motorcycles making too much noise.

Joel Stottlemire says that:

The proposed regulation on minimum sound requirements for hybrid and electric vehicles are at best only minimally effective. At any speed faster than a few feet per second, audible warnings do not give sufficient reaction time to pedestrians and contribute to noise pollution.

Says David B. Rees:

I oppose mandatory noise pollution. The proposed standards do not appear to appreciably increase safety but do increase noise pollution. We should be aiming to make noisy cars quieter, not quiet cars noisier.

And here’s a note from Joe Adams:

Our society is becoming more and more noisy. Many low flow toilets sound like an explosion when operating. Many hand driers sound like a jet aircraft. City streets are extraordinarily noisy. The new electric cars are a step in the direction of achieving more QUIET in society. Adding an artificial noise to these cars is similar to adding the reverse backup “beep” on construction vehicles. The flaw in the concept of reverse backup alarms is that such alarms fail to acknowledge a basic trait in human nature: people tend to filter out irritating noises that go on all day long.

There seems to be a consistent theme there. I didn’t read them all but the comments I did read are pretty solidly in opposition to this rule. What do you think? You can offer your own comments to the NHTSA up until March 15.

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