Are electric vehicles too quiet?

 In EV Industry

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?

2018 Nissan Leaf

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

United States

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.

Europe

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.

Canada

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.

Conclusions

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.

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  • Pat

    Vehicles too quiet? How many people have had a run in with a bicycle? There is another vehicle that would require a “noise maker”. Excessive speed, disregard for pedestrians an much less braking ability are big concerns to me.

    Braking override technology can be used to sound a signal in a vehicle that is “too quiet” when approaching an “obstacle” on or near the roadway. It is hard for a cyclist dodging in and out to be fully aware and be ready to sound the bell.

  • Michael Thwaite

    Here’s what I know:

    I’ve been driving electric for nearly ten years, I’ve never even come close to hitting a pedestrian – despite trying to creep up on friends.

    As a pedestrian, I heard my neighbour approaching me from behind this very morning in his Model S, even though he was politely creeping towards me at only a few miles per hour – I was walking round a tight bend, he wanted to give me space.

    As a cyclist, I recently didn’t hear (and was nearly hit by) a Jeep traveling behind me at speed.

    One of my EVs does make an annoying whining noise at low speed – it hasn’t changed the fact that I’ve never been close to hitting anyone, it doesn’t help anyone, it just annoys me.

    Me conclusion: I don’t see any evidence whatsoever that there is a problem and that it needs a solution. As drivers, just look forwards not backwards when you’re driving. As legislators, stop looking for ways to make EVs less palatable – maybe try one even?

  • Guillaume Paré

    The problem is more the noise from other cars. Electric cars produce noise but it’s very low and digged by the ICE cars and motorcyles noise, mainly the noisy ones…