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 <del>Prius</del> Insight 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 vehicles and 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!