Ah, the unforgettable sound of an electric vehicle: the soft whine of electric motors is so unlike even the newest internal combustion engines!
On the highway, of course, the quietness of an electric vehicle is a moot point, as plenty of wind and tire noise is generated by its passing. In suburban areas, however, where quiet electric vehicles are more likely to interact with pedestrians, this has created a problem. The problem is that electric vehicles don’t naturally have an audible cue that would normally be associated with a few thousand pounds of moving equipment.
Given that both pedestrians and electric vehicle drivers are typically distracted by their mobile devices, headphones, or just the birds, this missing audible warning has led to accidents that could have been avoided. Since our eyes only aim forwards, our ears are our first warning system. Electric vehicles, without sounds normally associated with vehicles, have circumvented that warning system.
A few automakers have seen the need to supply their electric vehicles, as well as hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, with some sort of audible warning. Renault, best-selling electric vehicle automaker in the EU, has already implemented futuristic, yet not obnoxious, pedestrian alert sounds in their automobiles. It seems that not all automakers are on board with such an idea, so it comes down to the regulators to step in and make it mandatory.
In the US, the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) is considering such a law, requiring electric vehicles to make some kind of sound, at least at low speeds, which would function as a pedestrian alert system. Now, the EU is considering a similar ruling, which might make electric vehicle sound-generating hardware mandatory by July, 2019. Interestingly, the EU Parliament is also considering legislation that will reduce conventional-vehicle engine noise levels by July, 2016. Still, aren’t current conventional vehicles quiet enough?