Action alert: Submit a comment by October 30th here. Updates are here.

Illustration by Andy Singer; used with permission

If you had had a chance to "prevent" car alarms, would you have taken action?
At this time, there's no standard procedure for removing unnecessary vehicle sounds from our midst. Sonic litter will be the legacy we leave to future generations, and so much of it is generated by cars.
But we have a chance to change the course of "noise history" by helping to address a new vehicle alert sound that could change ambient sound quality in cities, suburbs, small towns, and national parks throughout North America.
The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 mandated that electric and hybrid cars be manufactured with sound that will be emitted outside of the car so that visually impaired people will have some kind of warning to signal that a "quiet car" is approaching. This makes sense in many contexts, as long as the added sound resembles the sound of a car and is no louder than necessary. But some owners have complained about "not having a choice of sounds," and now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed that automakers enable car owners to have a choice of sounds rather than a standard sound for approach, a standard sound for backup, and so on.
We at Silence the Horns believe that automakers should use standard sound signals for regulated minimum sound requirements in quiet cars for each direction, and that the sound should be similar to that of a vehicle engine. We think backup sounds should sound like a car backing up, rather than a loud industrial grade beeps sound that travels more than a mile in the wilderness.
The public should have had a say when automakers introduced car alarms, panic alarm, and industrial grade tonal backup sounds in passenger cars, and honking that "punishes" drivers who leave their cars running while they brush snow off the windshield. There should be a process for the public to submit comments every time a new sound is about to become a part of ambient sound in communities - either raising sound levels or degrading sound quality, or both.
And we did have this chance when acoustic vehicle alerting systems (AVAS) were first introduced - and although there were approximately 234,564,071 Americans over the age of 18 at the time, fewer than 500 individuals or companies submitted comments about the kind and quality of acoustic alerts that would be used with AVAS.
When you listen to AVAS sounds online, you will hear the sound of one car, and the sound may even seem pleasant. Some of the strangest AVAS sounds can be oddly likeable. But when you consider that multiple cars would emit a variety of sounds, that will raise ambient sound levels, and degrade sound quality, in residential communities and all places where vehicles drive under 20 miles per hour. More important, the mandate for AVAS in quiet cars was intended to protect blind and visually impaired people, not to fulfill the wishes of car owners. Imagine having to learn more than a dozen sound effects and recognize them as cars - wouldn't it be easier if each of them sounded like a car?
It is also worth noting that a concern of stakeholders is that dissatisfied owners will tamper with their cars' sound to eliminate it. But that's already happening because some owners strongly dislike having horns sounds as non-emergency warnings that wake the dead, or industrial grade backup beeping that pierces the stillness of a quiet night. A manual created by a Silence the Horns supporter who disliked the added sound of his new LEAF has been downloaded more than 600 times, and there are thousands of online forums where car owners share advice about eliminating "neighbor waking" sounds.
This is a kind of "once in a lifetime" opportunity, although it should be a regular part of automotive product development. Please set aside time to learn about the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, disability rights activism that led to the Act, minimum sound requirements, AVAS, and the long and winding road that led us here, and submit your comment before November 1, 2019.

Further reading

Dawn of the noisy electric car
Signals to noise in acoustic vehicles alerting systems
You may get the option to choose what your EV sounds like
Horns of plenty: concerns raised about electric car alert systems
Should hybrid and electric vehicles have acoustic alerting systems?
Electric car owners could choose which fake sounds their cars make under new proposal
Upgrading backup alarms to reduce encroachment on soundscapes in Denali National Park

May 2019 The Silence the Horns project is back on track!
We will continue working on the project through 2020, although we won't initiate as many letter-writing (and digital) campains as we initially did. But if any supporters want to initate a civil letter drive or social media campaign, or a related survey or online petition, you're welcome to publicize it on this website. Our only requests are that the language not disparage or ridicule users of horn-based vehicle signaling, that the material maintain a civil tone, that the message not exaggerate, and that we have the right to edit material that doesn't meet that standard. Any fact-checked news about the technology is welcome, and can be posted as a Notes from the Field feature. Organizations and individuals will always be welcome to join those who support and believe in our work, understanding that we are fighting for peace and quiet, for our attention, and for better sleep, rather than just fighting against a "nuisance" that "annoys" us.
From January 2014 until now, we gained no traction with any automaker, legislator, EPA, NHTSA, SAE, the Obama White House, or Consumer Watchdog. As a result of our 2015 letter drive, Consumer Reports published a survey and its findings - links are below. We are not and never were interested in or capable of pursuing a lawsuit. We recognized that most of us working on this would never in our lifetimes escape the sound of non-emergency horn signaling throughout the landscapes of our lives, outdoors, within our homes, or while we slept, or tried to. It was always our hope that younger and future generations might be free of this unnecessary sound, as well as other ubiquitous vehicle alert sounds. We are still working with two organizations who have the potential to help us move the needle forward, and at the same time, we are more and more interested in addressing other vehicle alert sounds.

We have Post-It Notes!

Wish you could do more? We suggest using our Post-It Notes to politely let your others know that they
have options other than honking to signify lock status, or advocate for quieter soundscapes by using
an "I Quiet" bumper sticker! You can buy Post-It Notes or bumper stickers by writing to this email
to order supplies or to receive templates so that you can create your own materials to print.

The Consumer Reports letter drive has ended, but it isn't too late to let the magazine know what you think of its coverage of horn-based acoustic alerts. The magazine published a Car Strategist column about acoustic lock alert in the Road Report section of the May 2015 issue, and an online version was published in April. This is the first time the magazine has addressed this family of techologies since a 2011 Chevy volt review. The article is a good start, but only addresses behavioral aspects of dealing with the problem, stopping short of suggesting that automakers who still use the horn consider using available quieter options. The article also doesn't mention new horn-based scenarios that have been added in the last few years by certain automakers.

If you want to send feedback, use the letter to the editor form. In the drop-down menus, select "Consumer Reports Magazine" and then select "Letter to the Editor." Begin with "Dear Editor" and mention in the first paragraph that you are writing about the article "Noises Off!" in the May issue of the magazine.

If you experience a technical issue where the form will not submit, or if you receive an e-mail from customer service recommending that you contact the Better Business Bureau, start over and resubmit a few minutes later. Only press the "Submit Query" button once.

You can also send feedback to the auto writers using the e-mail address carstrategist (at) and signing the communication with your full name and complete address, and better still, include your phone number.

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