Because of their lack of combustion engines, electric vehicles run far more quietly than traditional petrol cars. Initially this was considered just another benefit of the coming widespread shift to electric vehicles, as lowering noise pollution has a direct positive impact on mental health.
However the flip-side of this is that electric cars are now becoming harder and harder to hear, and avoid. Pedestrians and cyclists have become accustomed to hearing cars approach from a very long distance away, and now that so many of them are driving around almost silently, more people are getting hit by them, as they were completely unaware that a car was even nearby. In some environments, a person may only be aware of an electric vehicle seconds before impact.
Why Electric Cars Need Sound To Be Built In
Pedestrians are around 40% more likely to get hit by an electric car than a petrol one. The likelihood of blind or vision-impaired pedestrians getting hit by electric vehicles is even higher, and as more EVs come onto the road, the risk unfortunately increases.
This has become such a widespread problem that the European Union is introducing a directive requiring all new electric vehicles to give a sound warning to pedestrians. When travelling at speeds less than 12 miles per hour, the cars will have to emit a sound to warn those nearby that a car is approaching. At higher speed, electric cars generate more noise, so are more likely to be noticed.
The UK and US Governments are implementing similar laws to make their roads safer, which means that car manufacturers now need to design and implement sounds in their vehicles.
Why Is Creating Sounds For Electric Cars Difficult?
Both Nissan and Jaguar are already implementing new technology into their electric vehicles, which will warn pedestrians of their approach. This is actually far more difficult than it sounds – the warning system must be loud enough to warn people, without being too loud to cause a disturbance to nearby residents or to be heard on the inside of the car.
It took Jaguar four years to perfect its Audible Vehicle Alert System. They first wanted to use a futuristic spaceship sound, but when this was tested, pedestrians actually looked up to the sky, instead of around them.
Complying with EU regulations, the system plays the sound at any speed less than 12 miles per hour, at increasing pitch as it moves faster. There is a different sound for when the car reverses.
The sound a car makes is part of its identity, sports cars have always had famous roars that let people know how impressive the engine is. For electric vehicles, the sounds will need to capture some of that legacy, while still remaining practical and safe.
This isn’t the first time the sound of cars has come under scrutiny, recently the sound of Formula 1 cars had to be improved, as newer more efficient engines simply weren’t making as much noise as they had in previous generations.
This all highlights how important every element of vehicle design really is.
Read more about electric vehicles, or learn about how the shift to electric vehicles will change infrastructure.