Why are electric cars so quiet? When you look under the hood of most electric cars you will find something that looks like a gas or diesel engine bay, but it isn’t. There’s a charger, an inverter and an electric motor. Fully electric cars don’t burn gas so you don’t need an exhaust or tailpipe either, so far less noise.
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Silence, it’s the only sound you hear when driving an electric vehicle, pretty cool right? Well not if you’re a pedestrian. You see, it’s a lot more dangerous to walkers, bikers, and runners if they can’t hear a car it’s coming, this is especially a problem with the visually impaired.
Also sports car manufacturers recognize that driving sound, the sound of an internal combustion engine is such an important key part of the overall driving experience.
So in the past it’s been kind of important to have some sort of sound an electric car but it wasn’t something that needed to be in the car for it to be able to sell.
But now that’s all changing, because in 2016 the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, or NHTSA in the USA made a law that said by September 1st of 2019 every single electric car produced and sold in the United States needs to have some sort of audible warning when traveling at speeds of 19 miles per hour or less.
Warning Sounds For The Blind Or Visually Impaired
There are quite several hazards which visually-impaired people face every day on any road. The biggest risk in any environment where you’re interacting with traffic is going to be cars.
Cars have been noisy for years and people have used this noise to help them in keeping safe when crossing roads.
When the electric car took away those engine noises that made the life of those visually impaired people difficult when navigating the streets.
When you take the gas engine out of a car that is the dominant noise source of somewhere between 20 and 30 kph, once you take that noise source away the cars become harder to to hear coming. That can be difficult for anyone, not just visually impaired people
Can Fake Engine Noise Make Electric Cars Safer?
At that point the wind noise and the tire sounds should be enough to warn pedestrians of the coming car, but until that point there needs to be some sort of sound that the car makes. So now the race is on to invent what is commonly referred to as the sound of the future.
And it’s a really difficult task, because, if you live in an area where there’s a lot of slow-moving traffic, like New York City, you don’t want to hear this annoying beeping sound 24/7 right outside your house.
You’ve also got to remember that as a car travels, the pitch and frequency of the sound waves change because the car is moving towards or away from you, so it sounds differently as the car is traveling past you.
So it’s an extremely difficult task to come up with a sound that sounds good at all frequencies, and won’t drive anyone crazy even if it’s heard 24/7.
Each manufacturer could come up with a different sound for their electric vehicle to differentiate the brands, but to pedestrians it’s not important what kind of car is approaching you, as long as you can hear it.
Mercedes-Benz has partnered up with the 90s rock band Linkin Park to try and come up with a sound that can be emitted by their electric AMG vehicles. They recognize that their sports car manufacturers and that sound is a really important part of the driving experience.
So they want to come up with a sound that isn’t annoying to the pedestrians but is also cool to the passengers, so that’s why they’ve partnered up with a rock band.
Nissan has already debuted their sound they’re going to put in their cars, at the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show in their IMX concept car. It’s kind of like a beeping whooshing whirring futuristic sort of noise.
It’s not annoying at all but I imagine that if you’re hearing it all the time as a passenger, or driver, or pedestrian it could get annoying. Maybe it’s not the best system that’s been come up with yet but again, this is such a difficult task for car manufacturers.
One manufacturer has already come up with a sound for their electric cars with Fisker Karma. I know the company has gone out of business but when they produced their car they had external speakers mounted on the front bumper that could be used to produce any sort of sound whatsoever.
They suggested you use some sort of futuristic sound that they produced themselves and I believe was built into the car, it was kind of a cross between a Formula One car and a jet plane. It sounded fake but it could be a potential option for future electric cars.
And then there’s the last option that everyone could resort to because we’re already used to it, and that’s the internal combustion engine sound.
Pedestrians are going to recognize it as a car and manufacturers are not going to have a difficult time coming up with that sound to put in their cars.
Hopefully manufacturers can come up with something legitimate, something new, something that does sound familiar.
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