Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Silence of The Cars

Well Clarice, can you still hear the sounds of the engine screaming in your dreams?
There has been a lot of discussion about adding artificial noise to electric cars to serve as pedestrian alerts. I've been driving electric for over four years now and have driven over 120,000 miles, and I say they are simply not necessary. However as much as I wish it were true, I know the discussion doesn't begin and end with my opinion on this. Personally I'm all in favor for a backup beeper, which I actually think should be on all cars regardless of the type of fuel they use. But artificial noise when the vehicle is moving forward is silly and simply unnecessary. The quietness of the EV is something to celebrate, not shun.

Electric cars are quieter than gas cars, but only while driving at very low speeds (like under 10 mph) is there much of a difference. At speeds higher than that you can hear the tires on the pavement and the whine of the electric motor. Automakers are spending tons of money to make their gas cars quieter, and most cars - especially premium brands are extraordinarily quiet unless they are under heavy acceleration. In situations where pedestrians are most likely to have an issue, say crossing the street, cars are usually rolling along at lower speeds, coasting much of the time and much of the noise you hear anyway is the tire noise on the pavement. Plus, I think a bigger issue here is simply getting people to pay attention. Get off the cell phone, pull the Earbuds out and pay attention when you are crossing the street! And drivers need to stop texting and just drive the car. Look it's your responsibility not to run people over, it's not their responsibility to hear you coming and jump out of the way just so you can send "lol" to your bff! This is a sore subject for me because I was hit while crossing the street by a person texting three years ago and even needed surgery. I heard the car coming (a gas car!) just before it hit me and couldn't manage to get out of the way in time anyway.

Unfortunately our opinions may not eventually matter because our government may very well mandate a solution to a problem we don't have. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed a new rule requiring hybrid and electric cars to make sounds to alert pedestrians. Even though our friends across the pond have actually done studies and come to the conclusion that these artificial noises are not necessary. Still, We'll likely rush to legislate something we don't have actual data on. In the UK, a study commissioned by the Department for Transport came up with these findings: "At low speeds of 7-8 kmh (5mph) electric cars were just one decibel quieter than petrol cars. When speeds were increased to more than 20 kmh (12mph), the noise levels were "similar", with tyre noise dominating. "There does not appear to be any significant difference in the acoustic nature of [internal combustion engine] vehicles and [electric and hybrid] vehicles, and as such nothing suggests a pedestrian would clearly be able to differentiate between vehicle types,"

Anyway as I said I'm just one opinion. I want to know your opinion on this issue. Automakers are struggling with this. They are conflicted because they aren't clear exactly what the consumer wants and they are also not sure themselves if it is actually needed. I know because I've talked with people from various OEM's about this very subject and they have asked me what I think about it. Some believe that while hardened EV supporters like me don't think it's necessary, that people new to electric vehicles may believe it is. That may be true in fact. So I'm putting up a poll here and asking people to vote how they would like to see their EV deal with this issue. Please vote, I can assure you this blog is monitored by every major OEM, and nearly on a daily basis. You never know who's listening. The poll is at the top of the right sidebar. Let your opinion be heard! By the way, all cars already have a pedestrian alert, it's called a horn!


  1. NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Add it if you like but allow the driver to turn it off if they want to. I would use it in a shopping mall but turn it off when I come home late at night and pull into the driveway. My neighbors house is only 10 feet away I don't need to arouse them every time I come home late at night

  3. There is only one time when adding sound was an improvement. That was when silent movies became talkies. Everywhere else our quest has been to reduce the noise pollution.

    It is utterly senseless to add noise to a silent car - electric or otherwise. I hope these law makers wake up and realize that this is sheer folly.

    My vote is a big NO!

  4. I'm on the fence with this, I think its stupid to attack a nonexistent problem and I do think this subject is only meant to slow EV progress by some people. But I have been startled by hybrids running in EV mode, I was walking my dogs once and I noticed a Prius turn the corner behind me, 2 seconds later the Prius is right next to one of my dogs which scared me because I didn't have any indication that it was there. So I can see the practical side of this, and in the Distracted Era (thanks to cell phones) I don't think I'd mind a sound to give the car more presence to the idiots meandering around parking lots. I have to confess one of the only two features I liked about the Fisker Karma was it's artificial sound. On one of my test drives the salesman pulled the car up and left it running while he went in for a license plate. I stood there listening to it, the sound was unique it drew my attention to the car but it wasn't loud, it was at that moment when I realized that artificial sound for EVs and hybrids could actually work and not make the car appear nerdy. The Fisker's sound was like hearing the car of the future not some spaceship from a B movie. I don't think it's such a bad idea, but I think we need to tackle existing problems, like cell phone usage behind the wheel. It's not hard to notice that people are having trouble holding a straight line or maintaining a set speed anymore.


  5. Knowing this is an issue I watch how people react when I approach them in my Active E. Expecting people not to hear me, but every single time they react. Even when they are not facing the car they look and move. Most times I am kinda far back from them. I was very happy to see this reaction because I too love the quiet ride. I don't know what part of the car they hear but they hear it.
    Eddie B

  6. Adding a noise to wonderfully quiet ev is as silly as the reg flag waved by a preceding runner was in the early times of British motoring.
    There is no scientific evidence that it has a positive effect. It is just the reflection of people's fear of something radically new.
    Nobody gas ever asked a constant noise generation on streetcars, the San Francisco cable car or bycicles.
    Anyway, you hear tire noise and when not, the ev is too slow to do real harm.
    In other words: hell no !!!

  7. I think it is necessary to have a noise, but only at low speed.
    I tried the Zoe yesterday, and there is a noise under 30 km/h. It is quite discreet, not annoying and it stops quite quickly.
    People, while they are walking in cities are not that conscious about cars and other possible obstacles.
    Here in Paris, people cross the streets sometimes without looking, and whenever they want. I think some people, used to noises of thermic cars, might not hear an electric car and then, don't look to see if someone is coming. So I guess, for thoses rare moments, it is important to have some noise coming out of the car.

  8. Driving an EV since end of 2012 i only had ONE critical situation, when a teenager wearing bumbastic earphones passing the street. So, 7.000 km without any issue. And there is noise by the tires beyond 20 km/h, though

  9. Motoring can not only become cleaner but also more silent with the arrival of electric cars. And that is what we were all wishing for. Adding sound is like adding pollution to an electrical car.

    It already has a horn, like a bicycle has a bell. Do we add noise to bicycles?

    A big no.

  10. Absolutely not, cars are meant for the road not pedestrians so its your job to make sure to check and see if there are any cars before crossing an intersection/street. EV’s should not have to make some stupid noise to indicate your car is present, majority of gas cars make hardly any noise when idle so this idea is just plain dumb, i sure dont want my car making some annoying beeping sound when not moving.

  11. Unfortunately, there is not a lot we can do about NHTSA's rulemaking in progress. NHTSA has very little discretion, as it was Congress that passed the legislation requiring the artificial noise for BEVs.

    "The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act [of 2010] mandates a rulemaking to establish a standard requiring electric and hybrid vehicles to be equipped with a pedestrian alert sound system that would activate in certain vehicle operating conditions to aid visually impaired and other pedestrians in detecting the presence, direction, location, and operation of those vehicles."

    A copy of the legislation can be found here.

    NHTSA's proposed regulations (January 2013) can be found here.

    The legislation was pushed through by special interest lobbying (i.e. blind persons associations). The cost/benefit analysis presented by NHTSA in their proposed rule preamble requires a leap of faith, but then again, their hands were tied. People with BEVs can disconnect the devices on their own, but dealers/mechanics are legally prohibited from doing so.

    The available noise samples are fairly innocuous (sound like white noise), and are on at very low speeds, but one of the main attractions of BEVs is the quiet. I suspect there are a lot of pedestrians run down by bicycles, but nobody is suggesting that bicycles be equipped with noisemakers. Of interest: in this year's Pike's Peak Hill climb race, the electric vehicles were required to have noise makers to alert people who tend to get out on the roadway; at least one of those noises was very attention-getting (read loud and unusual - not at all a noise that cars make).

  12. Another "NO" vote. There is indeed a increasing incidence of pedestrian incidents, but it tracks well with the rising incidence of people talking or texting while walking. I have had kids jaywalk across the street without looking while on the phone, then look annoyed when you honk at them.

    The reverse sound is useless on a car. It was designed for trucks that have bad rearward visibility. Cars don't have that, just stupid drivers who refuse to turn and @LOOK@ where they are going.

  13. I would gladly pay to have the Jetson's car sound at low speeds.

    1. Here ya go!

      Eddie B


  14. So while my preference is a “City Horn” (beep, not HONK), if the car must make a noise, it should at least have a “push to silence” button. Anything loud enough to get pedestrians attention is going to be unwelcome by the neighbors off hours. Also, the noise the Fit EV makes, a 50’s flying sauce drone, does not convey “Vehicle” to pedestrians. They usually start looking around for where that noise might actually be coming from, certainly not the little blue car. The oft mentioned “Jetsons” noise would more likely convey “Vehicle” to pedestrians. It also had the benefit of a tonal frequency change so you could tell when Gorge/Jane was accelerating or slowing down. A combination of vehicle speed and accelerator position would make this noise (and it is noise, not sound) more useful.

  15. Hi again, I was thinking about this subject again and one of the items to vote on reminded me of something BMWs already have. The standard feature with the ability to turn it off reminds me of the daytime running lights in a BMW. With iDrive you can go into Settings and turn off the daytime running lights. Like artificial sound in an EV daytime running lights are meant to draw attention to the car for safety reasons. Before iDrive I used to have my car dealer deactivate the running lights and it was legal. Now though with the cool cornea LEDs I do leave them on. But if a law is made that says we need a sound generator in electric cars I still think it should be up to the individual driver to elect to use them or not.


  16. Chevrolet Volt driver since March 2011 here. I've only used the Pedestrian Friendly Alert to "say goodbye" when leaving my family's home. Never had to use it while driving. I realize my car is very quiet, just like any modern near-luxury vehicle, so I am careful driving in parking lots, for example. If the NHTSA isn't forcing ALL auto manufacturers to add artificial noise makers to their cars to achieve a "minimum sound level" (whatever that is), then don't single out hybrids and EVs!

  17. I am missing a very importent option from the poll: Additional driving sounds should be fully banned in all possible ways. it is the only safe option.

    People trusting sound so much they ignore other senses. And the difference isn't even that big. I am pretty sure that people who claim to do this for the visually impaired never asked any visual impaired person if this is what they would want. It migh even distract them from the other noises they so much need to hear.

    Well maybe it is not true, because in the modern age we have a new group of visually impaired people, those who are glued with their eyes to their smartphone's and dont really look where they are going. But we can only be safe if we use all our senses well. They will most likely still be hit by a normal petrol car anyway.

    I am also scared of what would happen should this be widely available. How long before we get car-ringtoes?