Hybrid and fully electric cars
are quieter than their traditional siblings - but is this a significant strength or a worrying weakness? One one hand, near-silent cars are relaxing to drive which is nice for motorists. They also make life more peaceful for those who live or work close to busy roads. But what about pedestrians and cyclists? These individuals listen for traffic as much as look for it. They therefore partially rely on thumping pistons and booming exhausts to stay safe. But electric cars - and hybrids travelling at low speeds – do not make traditional car noises so they sneak-up on road users. As their numbers rise this could increase the frequency of accidents which would be bad for the individuals concerned, their families, and the N.H.S. Now, it is fair to suggest that people could learn to rely more on their eyesight. Perhaps this is true. But what about blind pedestrians who depend almost entirely on their hearing to sense traffic? And what about other motorists? Drivers perceive the presence of traffic - even when it is hidden by blind spots/fog - via the rumble of exhausts and the pounding of internal combustion.
What Can Be Done To Make Electric And Hybrid Cars Noisier?
Manufacturers are now responding to these concerns by creating systems that make fully electric and hybrid cars
noisier at low speeds. These are available in the United States of America and Japan. I suspect they will soon find their way to the United Kingdom too. The principle is to use weather resistant external speakers to play warning sounds to pedestrians and cyclists. Some constantly simulate the idling and acceleration of internal combustion vehicles, others simply chirp intermittently. However, the systems could produce any noise the manufacturers choose. Furthermore, some only propel sound waves in the direction the vehicles are travelling. Pedestrians standing behind cars that are moving forwards are therefore spared the full force of the noise - but those in their path are alerted more vigorously. And quite right too. Fully electric and hybrid cars are likely to become increasingly popular over the next few years. They have numerous advantages, after all, such as low emissions. But surely a generation of cars that is virtually silent would be bad for road safety. Surely that would be a significant weakness even if they make busy roads quieter for residents. So, roll out those speakers.
By Stephen Turvil
Mon, 18 Feb 2013