Are electric vehicles too quiet?
Electric vehicles (EVs) are gaining traction like never before, and new models are being announced continually. We all talk and get excited about the benefits of EVs, from their environmental benefits to the savings you see when recharging versus refueling and reduced maintenance costs. However, there is one drawback to EVs that we’ve been hearing about for a while now, and that is that they are whisper quiet. We all can picture what it sounds like when walking down the street in a bustling city, including the whining and growling from the internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles driving by. Now can you picture that same city with no engine noise at all? It almost seems peaceful, doesn’t it?
Well, this is what has some people worried. When EVs are traveling at low speeds (below 30 km/h) they are virtually silent. This presents a problem to pedestrians, cyclists, and construction/city workers whose jobs take them close to busy streets. We are used to not only looking for vehicles before crossing the street but also listening for them. According to a report from 2015, pedestrians are 40 percent more likely to be hit by a hybrid or electric car than by one with a gas or diesel engine in the UK. For those that are visually impaired, the quiet hum of an EV can be even more of an issue. Governments have noticed this issue, and some have begun to tackle the problem.
It’s going to be law that your EV makes noise
Back in November of 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that electric vehicles sold in the US would need to make a sound when traveling less than 18.6 mph by September 2019. However, this date was later extended to September 2020, with OEMs needing to be 50% compliant by the original September 2019 deadline. According to the NHTSA’s Minimum Sound Requirements for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles report, they believe this law will result in 2,390 fewer pedestrian injuries per year.
Starting in July 2019, all new electric and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) vehicles sold in Europe will have to emit a noise when traveling at low speeds. If you are an EV or PHEV owner already, you will have to have your vehicle retrofitted by 2021.
As of right now, Canada does not have specific noise laws that manufacturers have to follow when selling electric or hybrid vehicles in Canada. However, in early 2018, Transport Canada was requesting comments on amending the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations to address minimum noise requirements for hybrid and electric vehicles.
To date, there is not a standard noise that the industry has accepted, with OEMs having their own solutions to this problem. As EV adoption continues to rise, and laws come into effect, it will be interesting to see what solutions arise. We can agree, that EVs making noise at low speeds is important, but having them make the right noise is tricky. Will the noise make people look, or will they just ignore it like a car alarm? Will this noise invoke a feeling of urgency and make people react quickly enough? Only time will tell.