Electric vehicles are becoming more popular. They are particularly popular with city-dwellers and we are seeing more and more of them coming into our city centre garage.
They are cheap to run and good for the environment and as the technology improves the driving experience is getting better.
One of the more positive aspects of the driving experience is that electric and hybrid vehicles make a lot less noise than their fuel-guzzling counterparts.
But while a quiet drive is nice for drivers, it is potentially dangerous for pedestrians. Particularly those that struggle with their sight.
The old Look, Listen, Live mantra is becoming more and more ineffective. Just ask one Birmingham man who was hit twice in the same place by the same electric car because he “never heard it coming.”
The EU is making it compulsory for all electric vehicles to have sound generating systems in 2021, but the charity Guide Dogs wants the government to impose an order on all manufacturers to do this before then.
The US has one-upped this policy mandating that electric cars make some kind of artificial noise when travelling at low speed by 2019.
The legislation says that when vehicles are travelling at higher speeds (over 19km/h) the tyres and wind passing over the car make enough noise to alert other road users. But at low speed the battery-powered cars are too quiet.
Interestingly though, the legislation doesn’t specify what kind of noise the electric vehicles should make. This will be up to the manufacturer, but we have some suggestions.
What noise should an electric car make
Artificial noises in cars is nothing new. Reversing commercial vehicles have beepers to tell pedestrians that the driver may be unsighted. It’s also a legal requirement for every car to have a horn to alert pedestrians (and other drivers when they are driving stupidly).
Blind people cross the road by relying on traffic noise, but it’s not as easy as picking a sound and playing it out of a speaker.
You might be tempted to fit your electric car with your favourite song that plays to alert passers-by. But a blind person would struggle to judge the orientation, speed and direction of travel of your vehicle if it was just continuously playing a song. It will also probably get on your nerves after a while.
The Guide Dogs charity has some recommendations for vehicle manufacturers to help them make their cars safer for blind people. The recommendations are:
- That the vehicle is audible regardless of location and speed
- That any noise-generating system takes account of when a vehicle is operating in quieter conditions
- That the noise-generating system indicates the direction of the car and what it is doing, particularly if it is stationary in traffic
- That the noise generated sounds like a vehicle and replicates the sound made by a similar vehicle with an internal combustion engine performing the same manoeuvres
- That systems do not have a “pause switch” so that drivers cannot turn off the system at will
There is still a lot of room for vehicle manufacturers to pick their own signature sounds within this framework though. In most cases the sounds reflect the personality of the vehicles.
Porsche hybrids, for example, are fitted with loudspeakers to deliver the company’s signature engine growl.
Nissan, on the other hand, have elected to give their vehicles a very different sound to give their electric vehicles a very different sound. They sought to challenge what a car should sound like and we think they have done a pretty good job.
But that sound might get annoying after a while.
Speaking of annoying sounds, here’s what some Formula E cars sound like.
Motorsport drives a lot of innovation in the world of cars and Formula E has led the way for electric vehicle development. The noises the cars make are certainly distinctive, but they’re more suited to the race track than the streets of Manchester.
For a bit of a throwback someone in the garage suggested that this would be a good electric car sound.
For what it’s worth I think that Tesla leads the way in electric cars sound, listen to this.