Gavin Shoebridge – an electric vehicle nut, a keen environmentalist

                Electric Car Conversion Blog By Gavin Shoebridge

October 17th, 2009 at 1:18 am

Is the electric car too quiet?

In quiet parking lots or on very calm evenings, my own electric car had the dangerous problem of being a pedestrian magnet. Driving at a very low speed creates almost no tire noise, and without an engine clunking away under the hood it’s a recipe for disaster… Or is it?


EV proponents often argue that electric cars’ inherent quietness is just what the doctor ordered and is the way it should be. A fleet of silent electric cars accelerating from a green light on a calm day would be music to the ears as opposed to the sound of 20 different engines working away. The same EV proponents might argue that it’s the fault of the pedestrian to walk into the path of an oncoming electric car, and that blaming the EV driver is blaming the innocent on behalf of the guilty.

EV opponents or perhaps those just wary of this new silent menace argue that both visually impaired and deaf pedestrians would be at risk from not hearing an electric vehicle and that the only solutions are to have a device installed onto every electric car. This device would create a beeping or whirring noise of some sort for visually impaired pedestrians, and a flashing light on the roof or window for deaf pedestrians.

These arguments remind me of the old English “Locomotives Act” of 1865 which made it compulsory for a flagman to walk 60 yards in front of any automobile waving his red flag to warn people of this new “danger”. Not surprisingly this law lasted only a few years before being repealed. It seems now for better or worse we’re used to the noise of the internal combustion engine and we actually rely on it. Personally I believe we rely on it too much. I say this because I’ve been caught out walking in front of very quiet gasoline powered cars at low speed. In fact some of the newer gas-powered cars around are so quiet it’s startling – just as quiet as my electric car.

So what are the options? If a compulsory sound for EVs becomes law, I expect car makers will be forced to adopt a standard tone to be emitted from every electric vehicle. I also expect car makers will resist this in favor of their own tones, or even personal, downloadable “car tones” which could evolve into a whole new billion dollar industry. Though my skin crawls at the thought of James Blunt wallowing from the fender of some new hatchback as it approaches at low speed.

My expectation is that this will become law in some (but not all) countries and US states, and car makers will adopt it regardless, as long as the motorist has the option to buy downloadable “car tones” from their website etc.

I also expect (after a few years) this car tone law to follow in the footsteps of the old English Locomotives Act and to be repealed perhaps 10 years later, once people have adapted to electric vehicles and their characteristics.

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  • Philip
    8:02 am on October 17th, 2009 1

    Although I find the idea of making e-cars noisy rather ridiculous, probbably I’d prefer an artificial tire sound over some random music or beep or whatever annoying tone people find amusing. Its already bad enough with cell phones.
    I also wonder what kind of experiences operators of other electric transports have?
    The tram or the trolley bus for example, or the golf cart or small electric trucks, fork lifts etc.


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