Electric vehicles are quiet, very quiet; too quiet. They certainly don’t make anywhere near as much noise as the combustion engines we are all more used to. This could become a significant problem as the number of electric vehicles around the world grows. Why? Because pedestrians, children, the vision-impaired, and other people need vehicles to make sound for safety reasons.
In the United Sates, President Obama has now signed the Pedestrian Safely Enhancement Act of 2010. The legislation was introduced by Sen. John Kerry. This new act will require hybrids and electric vehicles to produce sound to alert people of their presence. It will, however, take quite some time for this new act to come into force. A motor vehicle safety standard that provides for a means of alerting vision–impaired people has first to be established. It could take a few years before the new law is actually seen, or rather heard, on the streets.
It’ll be interesting to see what is determined to be the minimum level of sound necessary to be emitted from vehicles, and just what those sounds end up being.
Considering the dizzying array of phone ringtones around, and the fact that electric cars are going to have a big capacity for add-on software applications, the mind boggles as to what people might come up with if free reign is given to what the sounds are allowed to be. Can you imagine the possible cacophony while waiting at traffic lights in heavy traffic? Hopefully sense will prevail there.
It should be noted that at the moment, the Nissan Leaf electric car automatically alerts pedestrians when the car is traveling at low speeds. General Motors Co’s Cheverolet Volt has a chirping sound the driver can activate.