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    US Regulator Fails to Address Inquiry to Give Electric Cop Cars a Silent Switch

    © AFP 2019 / Karen BLEIER
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    The US government wants to make electric cars noisy on a mandatory basis. After three years, a government body has yet to answer the question of whether police cars could be made exempt from this rule.

    A police car is usually associated with its trademark siren sound, and, on a secondary basis, with its roaring engine as police officers chase suspects down the road. Well, police vehicles could soon call to mind a different image: a silent hunter, creeping up the street, almost secretly, doing its best not to scare the suspect into hiding.

    Electric cars are silent. The feature is both a blessing and a curse: while certainly better for letting people sleep at night, the cars are also hazardous for pedestrians, who might not hear them coming. In order to prevent road injuries, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a rule requiring all electric vehicles, starting in 2020, to emit a noise when travelling at speeds below 19 miles per hour (roughly 30 kilometers per hour). The final draft of the rule went into effect in February, though it had been drafted and discussed previously.

    Three years ago, in 2015, Ford Motor Co. asked the NHTSA for permission to equip police cars with a noise switch to flip off and on, The Verge discovered. Apparently, the inquiry was never addressed. According to the report, the text of the final rule issued by NHTSA reads that the government would respond to Ford's request "regarding the legality of equipping certain vehicles used for security purposes with a means of turning off the required pedestrian alert sound" at a later date.

    "Furthermore, regarding a petition request to allow vehicles to be manufactured with a suite of driver-selectable pedestrian alert sounds, the agency is neither granting nor denying that request in this document," the rule states. "Instead, NHTSA intends to issue a separate document at a later date to seek comment on the issue of driver-selectable sounds."

    Curiously, Ford declined to comment on how police officers would benefit from such a switch, The Verge reports. However, it would be safe to assume that its purpose is to make cars silent, so that police officers won't give away their presence to suspects before arrests or during other operations. Besides that, a spokesperson for the car-maker insisted that the full text of its inquiry remain redacted because it contains "confidential and proprietary" information.

    The eyebrow-raising part is that not only did the NHTSA never reply to Ford's inquiry, it even said that the text referencing Ford's comment (see above) has been "inadvertently left in" the final version of the rule. Speaking to the Verge, an administration representative said Ford submitted its inquiry after the "public comment period" ended in 2015, and that the regulator ultimately decided "addressing the late comment would delay issuing the notice."

    The proposal to make electric cars noisy stems from an NHTSA study that found electric vehicles are 1.18 times more likely to crash into pedestrians than cars with internal combustion engines. The agency calculated that artificial noise makers would help to prevent some 2,400 injuries every year, The Verge reports.

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    Tags:
    electric cars, US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Ford Motor Company, United States
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