Moveable explores the future of transportation, infrastructure, energy, and cities.
In 2019, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed a rule that would allow electric vehicle owners to choose from a suite of noises the car could make at low speeds, warning others of its presence, since EVs can be quiet under 10 mph or so. But after hearing extensive feedback from the public, NHTSA has decided that this will in fact not be allowed, according to Reuters, because of a “lack of supporting data” that it would have any benefits but would “allow manufacturers to make more obscure sounds that only appeal to a small minority of (hybrid electric) owners.”
NHTSA appears confused. Make obscure sounds that only appeal to the people inside of the car? I was under the impression, based on the behaviors of the car owners I am often subjected to, that this was one of the major benefits of car ownership.
The rule never really got into what kinds of noises the cars might make, but the idea was users could choose from a library of noises to warn pedestrians, cyclists, and visually impaired people around the vehicle of its presence. While this library would in theory be limited by the car’s manufacturer, one thing a car’s manufacturer could do would be to allow you to upload any noise or song you’d like (or enterprising coders could hack such a feature and charge a fee for their services). As NHTSA eventually acknowledged, this may have been self-defeating from a safety standpoint, because people won’t know what is going on if each vehicle makes a different noise.
But the rush for sensible solutions has resulted in yet another lamentable big government overreach. For any city-dweller constantly harassed by the same uniform and obnoxious honking noises to “warn” pedestrians and cyclists they’re about to be run over, one laments what we’re missing out on, such as constant fart noises emanating from passing vehicles like Tesla permitted for a brief period. If fart noises were just the beginning, imagine the cultural richness we’re missing out on. What other creative, hilarious noises might our technological superiors have concocted to enrich our lives?
Unfortunately, we will never know the simple joy of enjoying a peaceful summer’s day on your stoop as a car drives by at 16 mph emitting the gentle, docile chorus from Ludacris’s love ballad “Move, Bitch, Get out of the Way,” perhaps, or an uploaded track of nails on chalkboards. There is a rich library of “annoying sounds” on Youtube, such as this “EXTREMELY painful sound” or this “most annoying sound ever!!!!!” Just imagine the alternate universe where NHTSA made it legal for any driver to broadcast these noises from the external speakers of their electric car, all for the safety of people about to get hit by it. Yet again, we have lost so much cultural richness to the arbitrary whims of the bureaucrats in Washington. Pardon me, but I thought this was America.