Should Electric Vehicles be Required to Make Noise? (w/poll)


There has been a lot of discussion about adding artificial noise to electric cars to serve as pedestrian alerts. I’ve been driving electric for over four years now and have driven over 120,000 miles, and I say they are simply not necessary.

Looks to be a Standard Prius Here...Not a Plug-In

Looks to be a Standard Prius Insight Here…Not a Plug-In

However, as much as I wish it were true, I know the discussion doesn’t begin and end with my opinion on this. Personally. I’m all in favor of a backup beeper, which I actually think should be on all cars regardless of the type of fuel they use.

But artificial noise when the vehicle is moving forward is silly and simply unnecessary. The quietness of the EV is something to celebrate, not shun.

Electric cars are quieter than gas cars, but only while driving at very low speeds (like under 10 mph) is there much of a difference. At speeds higher than that, you can hear the tires on the pavement and the whine of the electric motor.

Automakers are spending tons of money to make their gas cars quieter, and most cars – especially premium brands are extraordinarily quiet unless they are under heavy acceleration. In situations where pedestrians are most likely to have an issue, say crossing the street, cars are usually rolling along at lower speeds, coasting much of the time and much of the noise you hear anyway is the tire noise on the pavement.

Ugh...Stop Texting From behind the Wheel

Ugh…Stop Texting From behind the Wheel

Plus, I think a bigger issue here is simply getting people to pay attention. Get off the cell phone, pull the earbuds out and pay attention when you are crossing the street! And drivers need to stop texting and just drive the car. Look it’s your responsibility not to run people over, it’s not their responsibility to hear you coming and jump out of the way just so you can send “lol” to your bff! This is a sore subject for me because I was hit while crossing the street by a person texting three years ago and even needed surgery. I heard the car coming (a gas car!) just before it hit me and couldn’t manage to get out of the way in time.

Unfortunately, our opinions may not eventually matter because our government may very well mandate a solution to a problem we don’t have. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed a new rule requiring hybrid and electric cars to make sounds to alert pedestrians, even though our friends across the pond have actually done studies and come to the conclusion that these artificial noises are not necessary.

Still, we’ll likely rush to legislate something we don’t have actual data on. In the UK, a study commissioned by the Department for Transport came up with these findings:

“At low speeds of 7-8 kmh (5 mph) electric cars were just one decibel quieter than petrol cars. When speeds were increased to more than 20 kmh (12mph), the noise levels were “similar”, with tyre noise dominating. “There does not appear to be any significant difference in the acoustic nature of [internal combustion engine] vehicles and [electric and hybrid] vehicles, and as such nothing suggests a pedestrian would clearly be able to differentiate between vehicle types.”

Graphic Showing Nissan LEAF Sound

Graphic Showing Nissan LEAF Sound

Anyway, as I said, I’m just one opinion. I want to know your opinion on this issue. Automakers are struggling with this. They are conflicted because it isn’t clear exactly what the consumer wants and automakers are also not sure themselves if it is actually needed. I know because I’ve talked with people from various OEM’s about this very subject and they have asked me what I think about it. Some believe that while hardened EV supporters like me don’t think it’s necessary, that people new to electric vehicles may believe it is. That may be true, in fact.

So, I’m putting up a poll here and asking people to vote how they would like to see their EV deal with this issue.  Please vote, I can assure you my BMW i3 blog is monitored by every major OEM, and nearly on a daily basis. You never know who’s listening. The poll is at the top of the right sidebar. Let your opinion be heard!

By the way, all cars already have a pedestrian alert, it’s called a horn!

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28 Comments on "Should Electric Vehicles be Required to Make Noise? (w/poll)"

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Um, that first picture is a Honda Insight, not a Prius…

Thank Aaron…Fixed now…Prius/Insight…either way there’s no plug there.

Aren’t the Insight/Prius fundamentally different with regards to their hybrid systems? I don’t think the Insight can run on all electric. The engine has to be on at all times while in motion. I do think the engine turns off at a stop though, “stop/start” system. That would just make that picture all the more useless to prove a sound system is needed.

If you are going to force automakers to spend $ on something like this, why not spend it on collision avoidance instead? This would probably do more good preventing pedestrians (who may have headphones on or involved in their own texting world) from getting hit by drivers who are in their own texting world.

This would also help prevent many car accidents, and should be implemented for all cars not just EV’s.

Short answer to “why not” is: active collision systems for all cars is far more expensive than a noisemaker on just a few cars, and thus harder to justify mandating, but I personally like your solution. Ideally, tie the choice/incentive to insurance premiums.

Also, if more & more EV’s are hitting the roads, and they all have these noisemakers, it’s going to be chaotic noise pollution at intersections.

Have you ever been to an Asian factory? They love putting noise makers on things that move for safety reasons. But sometimes there’s so much stuff moving, and sounds blaring everywhere, you don’t know whether to get out of the way or stay still.

A couple of weeks ago I was hit by a speeding mobility scooter. In the middle of a mall!!! I guess the old lady was late for a sale event. The scooter made no noise. My point is – the juice is not worth the squeez. All the damage was a black spot and I can live with that. To prevent those kinds of ‘accidents’ would require installing sound emitting systems on mobility scooters and at that point I would stop going to malls.

I am glad you brought up this topic Tom. My 2011 LEAF has the noise emitter on it, so I have 2+ years of experience with how effective it is (not). I can say that the sound it makes when I am moving forward at slow speeds does nothing to alert pedestrians. The noise is not one that pedestrians associate with a moving vehicle. The noise while backing up is a good safety feature, as visibility is often limited backing out of parking spots. That said, I cannot remember a time that someone clearly avoided me due to the sound the LEAF was making while in reverse. I live in a residential neighborhood with many kids in the neighborhood, so I am always driving carefully through the area. This is no different in my wife’s ICE, as the same dangers of a kid running into the road still exist. I also come up behind pedestrians in parking lots (often on cell phones) walking in the middle of lanes, but this occurs in both vehicles. The feature I really like is the manual pedestrian alert GM put on the Volt. The common problem regardless of vehicle type, is a pedestrian that… Read more »

No they should not be required to make noise. But they should have some kind of lower volumed alert capability that the driver can use to shoo people walking down the middle of parking lot driving lanes off to the side. My Volt has this, a button on the end of the turn signal stalk when pushed gives a weird ‘chirp-chirp’ which works, even though it does draw rather nasty glares back from those it bothers.

Yes, but that is better than the one-finger solutes that the horn would get.

Perhaps if the sounder was tied into the obstical detection system and speed sensing. So that if you are traveling below a specified speed and a person steps in front of the vehicle, it will make noise. No pedestrian, no noise.

Otherwise, our iner-cities will sound like milions of alarm clocks going off all day long.

I’m from Holland. Bicycles make no sound and in a city like Amsterdam there are bikes everywhere. Accidents with pedestrians are rare. Mostly they happen with foreign tourists, who don’t have the habit of looking around when crossing a street while they hear nothing coming.

This means what counts is the habit, not the sound. Train kids to always look before crossing.

Have you ever been in Venice out of summer season and away from the Grand Canal? That is what a city sounds like when you do not hear cars (there are no cars…). You only hear the pedestrians. Wonderful!

Absolutely not, cars are meant for the road not pedestrians so its your job to make sure to check and see if there are any cars before crossing an intersection/street. EV’s should not have to make some stupid noise to indicate your car is present, majority of gas cars make hardly any noise when idle so this idea is just plain dumb, i sure dont want my car making some annoying beeping sound when not moving.

I don’t like that poll… I want a “NO!” option. 🙂

We could put cowcatchers on the front of cars and gently scoop the pedestrians away. Just kidding but as people have said, we need to pay attention and look out for each other.

Another “NO” vote. There is indeed a increasing incidence of pedestrian incidents, but it tracks well with the rising incidence of people talking or texting while walking. I have had kids jaywalk across the street without looking while on the phone, then look annoyed when you honk at them.

The reverse sound is useless on a car. It was designed for trucks that have bad rearward visibility. Cars don’t have that, just stupid drivers who refuse to turn and @LOOK@ where they are going.

So while my preference is a “City Horn” (beep, not HONK), if the car must make a noise, it should at least have a “push to silence” button. Anything loud enough to get pedestrians attention is going to be unwelcome by the neighbors off hours. Also, the noise the Fit EV makes, a 50’s flying sauce drone, does not convey “Vehicle” to pedestrians. They usually start looking around for where that noise might actually be coming from, certainly not the little blue car. The oft mentioned “Jetsons” noise would be more likely convey “Vehicle” to pedestrians. It also had the benefit of a tonal frequency change so you could tell when Gorge/Jane was accelerating or slowing down. A combination of vehicle speed and accelerator position would make this noise (and it is noise, not sound) more useful.

if it really is a noise issue, then that should be the criterial, not what kind of vehicle it is.
If they do set a noise limit, then everything quieter should have to make noise.
Singling out evs when some gas cars are just as quiet is wrong.

Vote no, except for a small chirps when reversing.
After all modern cars are quit anyway & EV once they are up to speed have their own noise.

What next person walking in front of the EV with a green flag ?

Come on guys common-sense – it will never be loud enough for those with music plugs in – or the elderly – who some of them are near deaf totally, then you have the drug and alcohol affected. Where would the proposed Nanny regulation end?

Next the do gooders will be complaining they got run over by an ice powered car because it was quieter than a Beeping / chirping EV!

I personally dont care for them at all. But then both my EV’s are 2011 so they’re silent.

I’m undecided on this. I usually turn off the noisemaker on my ZOE but sometimes I wish it could come on when reversing, but it can’t.