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By Jordan W. Charness

In December I wrote an article discussing the possibility of there being a law passed requiring electric vehicles to be equipped with artificial engine noises, so that the visually impaired would be able to hear them coming in time to avoid a potential collision.

I did ask for suggestions as to what type of sound people would like to hear if there was a law mandating artificial engine sounds, and received a few ranging from classic muscle car V8s to “the calming sounds of a lean green electric machine,” whatever that means!

Many people however wrote me to say that they felt that electric vehicles were loud enough and didn’t really need any type of artificial engine sound to properly be heard. Here are two of the most persuasive of these e-mails:

While electric vehicles are quieter than standard internal combustion vehicles I doubt very much that they are silent except in comparison. They still make tires on pavement noise and all electric motors make a wining sound or a low rumble.  I have worked with a very large number of electric motors over my 66 years and none of them have been silent especially when changing speed as they will have to do constantly in a car.
Since vision impaired people usually have better hearing – at least the ones I know do – I suspect while electric vehicles may sound silent to us they will not be to them.

Richard Dinning, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

Dear Jordan,

I read, with interest, your article in Autos concerning noise levels of electric vehicles. These past 40 years I have worked around and on electric vehicles in industrial applications and will concede that they are somewhat less noisy than a similar internal combustion engine equipped vehicle. It has been my experience that electric vehicles had to have special equipment installed in only the noisiest of applications, examples being foundries and stamping plants. However, and almost without exception, these warning devices consisted of flashing lights for increased visibility, not audible alarms.
Industry standards have been set to reduce noise emissions not increase them. Industrial truck manufacturers, for example, build to a standard of 86 db or less. Audible warning devices were installed only when low-speed reversing of the equipment was implemented. (Back-up alarms).
I find that electric motor whine and tire noise has been noticeable even on hybrid automobiles and appears to be sufficiently loud to provide some warning of an approaching vehicle. I would suggest a standard be established to determine minimum noise emissions and have manufacturers build to a noise level suitably safe for everyone. Would that not be a better option than having the sound of more noise-polluting Harleys on the road?
Thank you for the article and the best to you in the New Year.
Ron Cribbs

So it looks like our legislators may not have to weigh in on the topic of what sounds a quiet electric car should make. But then again, stranger laws are on the books so you never know what will happen. I’ll keep you posted.

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