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Push for noisier electric vehicles

– Common wisdom holds that an automobile’s piston engine can purr, rattle or – particularly in the movies – explode.

While the U.S. secretary of transportation would rather your engine do the former than the latter, he believes that a car in motion ought to make enough noise to be noticed.

“This proposal will help keep everyone using our nation’s streets and roadways safe, whether they are motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians, and especially the blind and visually impaired,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.

He is worried that electric and hybrid vehicles can sneak up on people without warning, putting walkers and bikers at risk. He endorsed a proposal from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requiring vehicles capable of moving in stealth to make enough noise so that people can detect them.

John Townsend II of AAA Mid-Atlantic sees an “ongoing concern” with quiet cars.

“Even if you’re not wearing ear buds as you cross the street, you can be deep in your thoughts, and it’s easy to walk in front of a car that you can’t hear approaching,” he said.

After hearing from pedestrian advocates, particularly those who seek to protect the interests of the blind, Congress ordered NHTSA to come up with guidelines.

The federal agency said it would leave it to auto manufacturers to figure out how to make the vehicles more noisy.

“Our proposal would allow manufacturers the flexibility to design different sounds for different makes and models while still providing an opportunity for pedestrians, bicyclists and the visually impaired to detect and recognize a vehicle and make a decision about whether it is safe to cross the street,” NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said.