Are Silent Electric Vehicles Dangerous? Aren’t All Vehicles Nearly Silent at Low Speeds?


I'm Heading Your Way...That Speaker Says So

I’m Heading Your Way…That Speaker Blaring Says So

No, because they certainly aren’t silent.

Nissan Removed The Ability To Disable The Pedestrian Warning Sound in 2012 In Anticipation Of This Upcoming Ruling

Nissan Removed The Ability To Disable The Pedestrian Warning Sound in 2012 In Anticipation Of This Upcoming Ruling

If you’ve ever witnessed an electric vehicle in motion, then you likely know that “silent operation” is not an accurate term.  There’s tire noise.  The rush of wind passing around the vehicle.  The noise that emanates from the suspension doing its job.  They don’t operate in silence.  Even near-silence is a stretch when the electric vehicle is moving at speeds say faster than an avid cyclists could match, but we digress.

There’s still significant debate over the sound systems that need to be installed in electric vehicles.  Final decisions on these so-called pedestrian safety systems will be written up and adopted by the US Transportation Department by January 4, 2014.  That’s at the request of the NHTSA, who proposed its Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 back in, umm, 2010.

Some argue that electric vehicles “catch pedestrians and bicyclists—especially the visually impaired—off guard when driving slower than 18 mph due to its soundless engine.”  There may be a grain of truth here, but a coasting gasoline vehicle can be near-silent, too.

We’re not against an audible pedestrian safety system, we just think targeting electric vehicles only sort of misses the mark.  Some gas automobiles these days are so refined in operation that their engines are barely audible.  Agreed?

So, let’s put in place a law that requires all automobiles to emit an audible warning at a given speed or when the vehicle in question falls below a certain pre-determined decibel threshold while in motion.

But the NHTSA disagrees, citing a 2011 study that concludes electric vehicles are twice as likely to cause accidents while backing up, slowing or stopping, starting in traffic, or entering or leaving a parking space or driveway.  That 2011 study is now rather dated and was based on the very few electric vehicles on the roads back then.  An updated study is needed and we believe the results would be different, but that’s unlikely to happen.

Again, we do advocate for such a pedestrian safety system, but believe it would be more beneficial for all vehicles to have this life-saving feature.

via Mother Earth News

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13 Comments on "Are Silent Electric Vehicles Dangerous? Aren’t All Vehicles Nearly Silent at Low Speeds?"

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I wouldn’t mind an engineered sound for all cars, but I disagree that the motor on any type of ICE car is inaudible. Perhaps from inside the cabin a modern car is much quieter, but from outside the cabin, at the speeds of a crowded, pedestrian-rich city (say 15MPH), the motor noise is much more noticeable than tire noise, and there is no wind noise at all. 15 MPH may seem like a blip from the perspective of suburban or rural drivers, but in many crowded urban environments (housing many tens of millions of residents in the US), and where pedestrians are killed more often than car occupants, it’s probably the median speed.

Twaddle. You only have to stand beside the road and watch/listen to learn that this is nonsense. Sure, trucks, tractors (diesel engined) and, generally speaking, motorbikes can usually be heard – even stationary – due to their relatively noisy engines but the tyres of most modern petrol cars make far more noise than their engines do unless accelerating. If you don’t believe me, try it!

The issue is not whether EVs need to make a noise – they don’t – but educating pedestrians to look properly before they step into the road and drivers/riders to be properly aware of what is going on around them *at all times*, not drifting off into la-la land! Besides, a lot of pedestrians and drivers/riders are listening to music or jabbering away on the mobile phones, so EVs making a silly noise just isn’t going to help.

The whole thing is just a ploy by the ICE auto manufactures to try to put a spanner in the works for the EV movement – just like the dinosaurs at the US Auto Association are doing with their legal action against Tesla selling their cars in their own show-rooms. Both concepts are pathetic.


I confess my affinity for quiet EVs. The only reasons I have yet to turn in my 2011 Nissan LEAF, is the mental attachement to that particular car being the first EV I could ever buy after such a long (long, long) wait…and the ability to turn off the sound.

Even with the un-mutable sound at low speeds on my i-MiEV, I still sneak up on people. The sound from my car sounds kinda like a vacuum cleaner. If it was a more unnatural sound, or a sound that would stick out more against the din of regular cars, I think it would be more effective. That being said, the sound kinda grates on my nerves. If it weren’t a lease, I would disconnect the speaker. The only purpose I’ve found is letting me audibly know if I’m going slow enough in a school zone (20MPH).

It would be cool to have customizable sounds – I’d like my Model S to sound like the Jetsons’ car!

Jean-Charles jacquemin

I have my Ampera since May 2012, I always drive it in electric mode in town and in my crowded by students work environment. I NEVER had a problem with a pedestrian after 38,000 km.
This pseudo-problem is much ado about nothing that could however increase costs for EV-owner and more red tape… all things we must fight.


It’s the responsibility of driver AND pedestrian to know their surroundings and to pay attention to the events that are occurring in your general area.

How about we don’t install a sound system and tell the pedestrians to pay attention to what they are doing for a change. Most car/pedestrian conflicts are the results of pedestrians just walking out in front of cars. Once again you want to punish us by having us listen to it all day because someone else refuses to pay attention.



I deal with thousands of silent vehicles, and they are even on the sidewalks! I’m talking about students and bicycles at a major university. The vast majority of people tend to be aware of their surroundings and look both ways (even on one ways) before crossing a street. There are those that will step out without looking in front of loud buses and trucks, I’ve seen it happen here! Having quiet vehicles, cars, bikes, whatever, make sounds will still not fix stupid.

We’ve nanny’d cars to death. The reason they are 4000 pounds now instead of 3000 pounds on the average is all of the things we think make it ‘safer’. Some made sense. Most don’t. We are more than familiar with marginal return in business. Accidents and their actuarial value work the same way. It is absolutely pointless to make rules that operate down in the probability levels of getting hit by lightening. Life is dangerous to ones health and human beings don’t have infinite financial value, although some people seem to be unaware that business assigns certain absolute values to different categories of people. We’re not as valuable as we would like to think. Also, we teach our kids to look left and right carefully. If you become an adult, is that rule null and void?

I wouldn’t mind amplifying the beautiful sound my Volt makes while taking off. Only to about 5 mph, after that the tire noise takes over. Whenever I want to wow someone who has never heard an electric car, I have to shut off the fan and have the person get close to the side of the car while I hit the accelerator. They have a second to hear the sound, because the tire noise takes over really fast. Many times they miss the sound and I have to do it again.

I have a Volt. While the Volt has a warning sound, I think it’s a bit too loud. I’d love a “jeston’s” car sound instead.