Are eco friendly vehicles too quiet? Listening to the sound of the streets

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While most motorcycle owners proudly rev their engines, electric car drivers are now asking themselves what artificial sound should be produced by their cars, because they are too quiet for others to know they are coming. But is there such a thing as a vehicle that is “too quiet”?


The sound of eco friendly vehicles

It’s well-known that electric cars are significantly quieter than traditional cars, and some have even gone as far as to call the vehicles “dangerously quiet”. To give drivers the feeling that their new electric car is no different from their old petro-fueled vehicle, some auto enthusiasts have added artificial noises – some even directly mimicking traditional enginges – to the cars when they are driving.

In fact, a humourous BBC report from this week (video here) asked what sound electric cars should make, by test driving an EV around a campus emitting a range of different noises.

However, the flip-side of the argument is that the vehicles are only really quiet when they are just starting up. Take, for instance, the road test conducted in this video:

Judging by the audio in that video (which, I admit, is hard to judge), the vehicle is quiet, but mostly when it is driving slowly.

The backlash to quiet vehicles now begs the question, why do we want noisy streets?


Calgary passes noisy vehicle bylaw

Due to the general public’s hatred of noisy vehicles, the city of Calgary, Alberta has gone so far as to institute a noisy vehicle bylaw, which tracks offenders with “ear-splitting vehicles” through photo-radar type technology that watches vehicles as they drive by, listens to the decibel level emitted by the vehicle, and traces the offender by their license plate. Watch how the new technology, called Noise Snare, works in the video to the right. Noise Snare only reports vehicles louder than 96 decibels – which is 4 times louder than an average car.

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A bylaw like this would lead one to believe that quieter streets are what we should be aiming for – so why are we trying to add artificial noises to cars that are inherently quiet by design?


The case for low speed electric vehicles

It is especially unfortunate that low speed electric vehicles are being targeted for the new additional noise features. As the golf-cart sized electric vehicles are street legal on roads under 35mph, it makes sense to promote these vehicles as eco-friendly and neighbourhood approved forms of transportation. But an added noise factor just to let others know you’re coming would make driving one obnoxious to anyone – especially your passengers.

So let’s drop the argument for good: electric cars don’t need artificial noise. They are emitting the right sound (none) already.

Ian Andrew Avatar

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