Hybrid cars: Silent but deadly?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants to pass a new rule requiring hybrids to make more noise

By Katie McDonough
January 8, 2013 11:15PM (UTC)
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Silence is golden. Except, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, when it comes to cars.

The latest crop of hybrid and electric vehicles on the market are so quiet that pedestrians and bicyclists just can't hear them coming. As a result, the administration wants to pass a rule requiring car companies to make them noisier.


The new rule would require cars to make noise at low speeds, and that sound could be customizable, says Jamie Kitman, the New York bureau chief of Automobile magazine. As he told Marketplace Morning Edition, "There's no reason your car couldn't sound like Rush Limbaugh or Rachel Maddow or Led Zeppelin."

But for those who don't want Limbaugh to bark at you every time you hit the road, car companies will most likely choose something that sounds like a traditional car engine.

Interestingly, this isn't the first time noise has been added as a vehicle safety feature. Beginning in the 18th century, sleigh bells weren't about the holiday spirit. They were designed to keep people from being trampled. As Slate reported:


Back in the age of real horsepower, the jingling of bells had little to do with winter cheer, and plenty to do with not getting trampled to death. As early as 1797, Baltimore slapped one-dollar fines on anyone who didn't make their sleighs noisy enough. Other cities followed suit, and even the future Motor City had a tough sleigh-bell ordinance that could land silent sleigh drivers in jail.

Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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