Concerns About the Noise and Safety of Electric Vehicles

There is an ongoing dispute between the US government and electric car manufacturers regarding potential safety concerns. The fact that electric vehicles of today tend not to make any noise up to 17 mph has prompted calls for legislation to pre-fit all electric vehicles with noise technology which will filter out at 17 mph. This may seem rather bizarre to those on the outside looking in but there are a number of aspects which need to be addressed.

Is safety really a problem with silent electric cars?

To answer this question, next time you walk up a busy street just think to yourself, did you see that car coming before you heard it? The reality is that subconsciously we tend to hear vehicles before we see them and as such, and bearing in mind that electric cars are basically silent until 17 mph, there is the potential for pedestrians and cyclists to be unaware that electric cars are behind them.

Research by the US government suggests that there would be 2,800 fewer accidents involving electric cars and pedestrians/cyclists if they were fitted with some kind of noise technology. This has in the minds of some people opened up a number of opportunities for ring tone type noises to be added to electric cars as their “signature”. However, this particular idea is proving to be very controversial!

Would you recognise a non-traditional car noise?

The idea that some electric cars could have their own ring tone as a signature tune for their engines sounds good from a marketing point of view, but in reality it is a non-starter. Having a ringtone, or some other form of non-traditional engine noise, installed into an electric vehicle would be just as bad, if not worse, than having a silent vehicle.

Subconsciously you would not be able to connect some kind of ring tone signature tune with that of a traditional gasoline/petrol or electric vehicle – of which we are all very aware. So this would not in any shape or form assist with the safety aspects which have been drawn to the attention of the US government by various disabled charities and charities for the blind.

What does the electric vehicle industry think?

There will be some battles over the next few months with regards to noise creation for electric vehicles as the industry is not convinced. In a worst-case scenario the industry would like the sound effects to be filtered out at 12.4 mph at which point it believes that traditional electric engine noise would take over and act as a safety valve. There are even some electric car enthusiasts who believe that the silent engine associated with this type of vehicle is perhaps one of its best selling points.

Whatever happens in the future there is no doubt that electric vehicles will see some form of noise technology added in the years ahead. At the end of the day we are playing with safety, the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, and there can be no room for marketing angles and “off the wall ideas”.