After typewriter, phone and jukebox, another machine joining the list for being upgraded to its electric counterpart is the car.
Electric cars, propelled by an electric motor that is soundless, can successfully convert 60 percent of the domestic electrical energy. In comparison, conventional gasoline vehicles can convert only 20 percent of that energy. Better yet, the tailpipes of electric cars do not emit air pollutants like conventional vehicles do.
Although these cars come with environmental and financial benefits, they have a slow adoption rate. Many believe that this is because electric cars are too expensive and the battery takes a longer time to charge, others opine the reason is something else – that these cars are ’silent.’ In fact, they are so quiet that others on the road, especially pedestrians and cyclists cannot hear them coming.
Statistics show that bicyclists and pedestrians, especially those who are visually impaired, are often caught off guard by electric cars even when they are driven at a sluggish speed of 18 mph or less, thanks to its soundless engine. According to a study published by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA back in 2011, electric cars “are twice as likely to cause accidents” when slowing or stopping, backing up, entering or leaving a driveway or a parking space, and/or starting in traffic.
Electric Cars Pose Serious Threat to Pedestrians
As a result of the NHTSA and other reports, regulatory bodies felt the need to add noisemakers to electric cars in order to alert pedestrians and bicyclists of its presence on the road. In fact, the NHTSA made quiet-car noise requirement proposals in 2013 requiring car manufacturing companies to add in-built noisemakers to their electric vehicles so that they make a noise when moving at slow speeds, especially below 18 mph.
The reason for such a request was the age old belief that hearing and seeing provides the best defense to us against being hit and run over by a motor vehicle. The sound here acts as a safety measure to alert people about the approaching vehicle. According to the NHTSA, electric vehicles with in-built noise-emitting devices will help avoid almost 3000 accidents every year. The NHTSA has, however, allowed the car manufacturer to pick their own sound as long as it meets the audibility parameters of the organization.
However, many believe that the statistics mentioned in the 2011 study, based on which the proposals were made, are outdated as there were limited number of electric cars on roads back then. Some also argue that most recently designed diesel and gas-powered cars also produce significantly low decibel noise levels and, therefore, are of the opinion that electric vehicles are being unnecessarily targeted by the regulatory bodies.
Although retrofitting older electric cars and redesigning new ones is a relatively inexpensive solution, many consumers are against such a rule (should this become a law) as they think the government should not be in control of matters related to automobile design and functionality.
Despite such criticism and a slow adoption rate, the number of electric cars on the roads have increased over the past few years. This indicates that a large number of people are unaware that electric cars are largely responsible for road accidents due to lack of conclusive evidence. Besides, you cannot overrule the fact that many of these accidents are caused by noisier vehicles as well.
Principles to Be Used for Creating Noise-Emitting Electric Cars
Sound designers are working with automobile companies to find ways to avoid issues like electric car accidents arising due to the lack of ‘sound’ in these vehicles. While it will take considerable time to implement the safety standards, the principles regarding the sounds made by electric vehicles are as follows:
- It must indicate the presence of the vehicle to the pedestrians and cyclists on the road.
- The sound of the car must help others determine the location of the car along with its orientation i.e. whether it is moving away or toward the listener, how fast it is moving, etc.
- These sounds must not be annoying like those of horns, backup signals, sirens, or other aggressive warnings, which are relatively short, infrequent and deliberately unpleasant. The sounds of electric cars are bound to be heard more frequently in both light and heavy traffic and hence, the sounds must alert and orient, and not annoy the listeners.
It is essential to standardize the sounds of all electric vehicles so that pedestrians and cyclists can interpret them easily. Sounds that vary too much are more likely to confuse the listener. Despite that, many car manufacturers prefer individualization of the sound emitted from their electric car. This is basically done to meet two purposes – marketing and safety.
In terms of safety, individualization of electric cars will help you track them if there are several other vehicles on the road, especially at crowded intersections. Individualization of sound also has a significant impact on marketing. It helps different brands establish their unique characteristics that are in keeping with the particular brand’s image.
Delays in Verdict
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers insisted that the NHTSA defer full compliance of the law until September 2018, referring to their concerns regarding the clause of the rule. The delay in verdict has, however, disappointed many organizations and pedestrians, especially the visually impaired. The National Federation of the Blind has openly expressed its disappointment. They too have cited concerns over the increasing number of silent electric cars on the road and its impact on pedestrians. In addition to this, they suspect that addressing the issue related to the vehicles already on the road will not be a priority for car manufacturers, further increasing the chances of electric car accidents.
That being said, we don’t mean that car-makers are doing nothing. For example, Lexus hybrid and Toyota have launched a Vehicle Proximity Notification System, whereas Nissan Leaf now comes with an alert sound known as the Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians. Additionally, Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid also has an alert sound for the same purpose.
Conclusion – Precaution Is Better Than Cure
Although a cliché, the above phrase perfectly wraps up everything you need to do when driving electric vehicles. Drive carefully in your electric car especially around cyclists and pedestrians. Also, focus more on the parking lots, driveways, cars pulling out of alleys, and school zones.
Jenniffer Pickard is a freelance content writer specialized in producing high-quality and original content. She is passionate about researching and writing for diverse industries. In her spare time, she hangs out with her friends and whips up delectable desserts.