DANGER: Flocks of dangerous freakily quiet electric cars marauding across the U.S.

As an electric vehicle advocate (and owner) reading articles about the dangers of near-silent “electric” cars makes me puzzled. Are there that many electric vehicles on the road that it’s a significant danger? And is it the pedestrian who is totally responsibility for their safety? The answers are “no” and “no”. There are many hybrid cars on the road, but none of them can properly be called “electric” as none the hybrids currently on the market can be plugged in to recharge the battery pack. More importantly safety is not the sole responsibility of the pedestrian. A car driver is operating a big heavy machine and they have a huge safety responsibility. How many times do gas-car drivers run over pedestrians, bicyclists, or riders of mobility scooters?  Clearly there is an ongoing general problem of people being hit by cars driven by other people.  That existing danger is separate from any theoretically greater danger posed by quiet(er) hybrid cars.  Why, in these silent electric (ahem, hybrid) car stories, is driver responsibility ignored?

These are all great questions but there is a practical difference between a silent vehicle and a noisy vehicle. It’s the noise. That noise makes our cities, well, noisy. That noise is unpleasant and degrades our quality of life.  I hope that quiet electric vehicles will contribute to reducing noise pollution in our cities. At the same time noise does help us know what’s going on around us, and a pedestrian hearing an approaching car can more easily avoid the car.

Obviously not all drivers do so responsibly, ahem, and of course pedestrians have to be alert to the vehicles around them.

Making a silent vehicle noisy is easy, right? Embed speakers in the vehicle to make noise, right? What sound should an electric car make? How much? The beep-beep backup sound required for trucks? Maybe not. The links below are to various related articles and research into this question.  In many of the cases they’re trying to make engine-like noises but with amusing results.

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As an experienced electric vehicle owner my suggestions are.. Silent vehicles could make a little more noise, but requiring them to make as much noise as gas powered vehicles is a mistake.  Our mutual quality of life stands to be improved if more of the vehicles around us are quieter.  The noise can be designed to communicate what the vehicle is doing. The noise does not have to mimic gas powered vehicles. The noise can be pleasant, or harsh, and can be chosen by the driver.  Wouldn’t it be fun if your vehicle sounded like a wagon train complete with horsemen yelling “HIYAH”?

Also these stories tend to focus on people outside the vehicle and whether it’s approach is audible.  What about the driver?  As an experienced electric vehicle owner one thing I miss is audible feedback from the vehicle.  The engine noise in a gas car gives a clue to the driver what the car is doing, it’s health, etc.  Our bodies have five senses and the vehicle can communicate its status to us in more senses than visual information on the dashboard.  In making silent cars noisier some attention should be given to sound cues for the driver.

Anybody else envision a market for car sounds akin to the market for cellphone ringtones?

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About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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