Should Electric Vehicles Make Noise at Low Speeds?

January 9th, 2013

2012 Nissan Leaf

Imagine walking toward the entrance of your local grocery store when, as you pass the row of parked cars, you hear the clip-clop of an approaching horse.

Surprised, you stand still and wait, not wanting to get run over by a Clydesdale.

But instead of a majestic animal, a diminutive Nissan Leaf glides by, emanating the sound of hooves on pavement.

It seems ridiculous, but something similar could soon become law.

While horse sounds aren’t likely, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed new safety standards that set minimum sound requirements for electric and hybrid cars when traveling under 18 miles an hour.

The purpose, of course, is to reduce the number of collisions with pedestrians. EVs run silent at low speeds, and apparently there’s an epidemic of people getting hit by the silent predators. In fact, the NHTSA estimates that the proposed regulations would lead to 2,800 fewer pedestrian and bicyclist injuries per model year of hybrid vehicles.

Cars should make noise, so this legislation seems like a good idea. But, what sounds should they make?

The proposed legislation says EVs and hybrid cars should be heard amidst common background sounds and street noises. Automakers would chose from approved sets of sounds for a particular model.

But here’s where things get interesting. NHTSA administrator David Strickland said,

Our proposal would allow manufacturers the flexibility to design different sounds for different makes and models while still providing an opportunity for pedestrians, bicyclists and the visually impaired to detect and recognize a vehicle and make a decision about whether it is safe to cross the street.

Automakers could design the sounds! That opens up all kinds of possibilities for unique, trademarked sounds associated with particular models. Not only could this be safer for pedestrians, but it could give car companies another opportunity to brand their vehicles with a specific sound. That’s a gold mine for marketing folks!

Just don’t expect any clip-clopping Leafs.

What sound would you want your EV or hybrid to make? A V12 wail? A jet engine? Something else?

-tgriffith

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Used Nissan Leaf

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  1. Randy
    | #1

    My Prius C makes a sound like a UFO, which is what we call it anyway. Frankly, at those speeds I think the tires make as much sound as the warning gimmick.

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