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New EV motorists are often startled by sudden, high-volume beeping when they put their cars in reverse. The often unexpected alert is, in fact, a key car safety feature addressing one of the main concerns about electric car safety in populated areas: the lack of engine noise to alert pedestrians of a car’s approach.

Guaranteeing safety in the first generation of electric cars

When major innovations like electric vehicles become popular, it’s human nature to fixate on the big changes: new fuel types, redesigned engines, and home charging. In going big, however, even a careful observer can be surprised by the many small tweaks and adjustments EVs have needed to fit into the formerly gas-dominated marketplace. Even the first modern cars to use electric propulsion put serious thought into all the little details that would help them fit into the overall transportation ecosystem.

Every car manufacturer’s first responsibility is safety. As far back as the first hybrid designs, designers and drivers were concerned with the lack of engine noise – the first Prius hybrids, in particular, got people thinking about the issue. Per SmartPlanet, the U.S. government addressed those concerns early, commissioning a study to set minimum volume requirements for car alerts all the way back in 2010.

The speed of bureaucracy

As anyone familiar with the U.S. government knows, however, there’s all the difference in the world between stating a policy goal and actually putting rules in place that will get the job done. According to Reuters, experts and regulators took a full eight years to set the minimum volume level and put enforceable standards in place. The rules were passed in 2018, with compliance required in cars manufactured on or after 2020. 

Over the intervening eight years, the issue of engine noise has become more significant. The 2010 law was primarily concerned with hybrids, which produce operating noise at all but the slowest speeds. Pedestrian alerts were primarily for the benefit of blind pedestrians and children in residential areas with low-speed limits. By 2018, fully electric vehicles with little or no operating noise had become far more common, especially in busy urban areas. Electric cars needed new safety features to safely share the road.

Balancing safety with comfort


What Do H and L on an Electric Car Dashboard Gauge Mean?

For all the value of a deafening reverse alert when it comes to protecting pedestrians, it can drive motorists crazy. Per KiaForums and InsideEVs, some drivers have gone as far as disabling the alert outright. Anyone considering that drastic of a fix should keep in mind that could invalidate warranties and put the electric car out of compliance with local regulations.