What kind of sound should electric cars make to warn pedestrians?

Photo credit: Mike from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This interesting article in The New York Times discusses carmakers’ efforts to choose the sound their electric cars will make. Electric motors are quieter than internal combustion motors, and regulations in Europe and the U.S. require–or will require–electric and hybrid powered vehicles to make sounds that warn pedestrians of their approach, especially the visually impaired.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data show that hybrid electric vehicles were 35% more likely than standard cars to be involved in a pedestrian accident, and 57% more likely to be involved in an accident with a bicycle. Personally, I think the problem may be greater for distracted pedestrians who are talking or texting on their phones than it is for the visually impaired.

If vehicles can be required to make sound, they can also be required to be quieter. So the principle of regulations about vehicle noise would appear to be without controversy. And the same principle needs to be extended to vehicles, such as the muscle cars and Harley-Davidson motorcycles also mentioned in the article, that make too much noise.

Actually, there are existing federal regulations and regulations in many states about vehicle noise, but these are rarely if ever enforced—and that needs to change.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Comment (1)

  1. Ben

    The claim that if cars can legally be forced to be louder, then they can legally be forced to be quieter seems logical. But legally forcing them to be louder will be difficult—I doubt police will notice when a car is making less noise than its roadmates.

    That said, forcing everything dangerous to be loud is insane. Where should it end? I agree about distracted pedestrians: I’m usually a pedestrian or cyclist and I’m sick of being told that it’s my job to protect myself from dangerous 3000-lb chunks of metal that shouldn’t be allowed near people in the first place. But at the same time, pedestrians need to be aware of threats that don’t scream I’M HERE at 50 dB. Again, assuming that anything dangerous will make noise is moronic. Do we force cyclists to make noise? Should we? How about joggers? How about deer? Parked cars? Lamp posts? Curbs? Potholes?

    How about good city design combined with actively paying attention to threats? I frequently have near-collisions with pedestrians when I’m biking (in designated bike lanes, or etc), and as far as I’m concerned, any pedestrian paying so little attention that he gets run down by a silent car is just one less pedestrian who will carelessly endanger cyclists. And every car that makes noise that you can hear more than 10′ away is another car making it harder for pedestrians to hear the whoosh of bicycle tires that is quite clearly audible in non-noise-polluted environments—at least to those who have not had their ears ruined by all the things you normally blog about. And for those who can’t hear well—back to good city design and actively attending to other traffic.


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