Those who want artificial noises added to electric vehicles -- and to hybrids -- have momentum on their side.
Automakers recently announced their support of national legislation in the U.S. requiring a vehicle sound to assist the blind in detecting nearby hybrid or electric autos.
And now Nissan has contributed to that momentum, having added a set of artificial sounds to its all-electric LEAF, set to become available to consumers in the U.S. in December of this year. The space-age like sounds are emitted up to 18 m.p.h. and then disengage. The LEAF emits a sound as it backs up as well.
The LEAF's artificial noise-making system will automatically boot up when the car is started. However, for now, there's a dash button that drivers can use to disengage the system, though, presumably if national legislation is passed in the U.S. requiring that constant artificial noises be added to electric cars and hybrids, Nissan will yank the button.
What's too quiet and who decides based on what criteria?
In fact, the issue of auto noises and safety is a rather complex one that doesn't just involve electrics or hybrids. Many gas cars have become increasingly quiet in large part because that's what most consumers want. I wonder if legislators will take this into account and, for instance, rather than pushing a blanket noise for EVs and hybrids and actually take the time to investigate the specific decibel and noise levels of all new cars.
Wonder too, if anyone at Nissan, or at the National Federation of the Blind -- the primary force behind impending national legislation in the U.S. -- has considered what a parking lot or parking garage of EVs, all equipped with artificial noise making devices, would sound like? Or if it would even be safer? Imagine 200 cars emitting an artificial noise backing up at once in a large, echoey parking garage.
More generally, has anyone thought -- really thought -- about what the combined effect of tens of thousands of EVs equipped with artificial noise-making devices might be on the urban human experience?
In other words, have any of the experts working on this issue actually reflected on what the collective impact of articial noise making devices might be? Will things in fact be safer -- I'm certain they won't be better for most of us -- for blind people and pedestrians if 100 percent of vehicles some day are all equipped with artificial sound devices that emit a constant noise?
All we're seeing right now is individual cars making artificial noises (as in the YouTube videos above) and absolutely no discussion that I've seen anywhere of the collective impact of artificial noise-producing EVs, hybrids, and perhaps even gas cars that are "too quiet".
Negative health effects of urban noise ignored
Missing completely, too, is any discussion of the negative health effects of urban noise on human beings. It's not on the media, or, for that matter, the mainstream American radar. Apparently, in mainstream society, you "can't" talk about urban noise because, well, it's something we "have" to accept, there are so many "more important" issues to discuss and debate, or it's too "intolerant" to speak out against urban noise -- or something like that.
What we have, right now, it would appear, is a growing, and seemingly ill-informed, knee-jerk response to the supposed extra danger electric cars and hybrids present. In fact, the one study that has been conducted on this issue by the NHTSA is, by the NHTSA's own admission, flawed, as the number of hybrids involved in pedestrian accidents sampled for the study was far lower than the number of gasoline cars sampled.
There are other flaws in the study too, alhough I won't discuss them here -- I'll save that for another column.
What do you think -- about the Nissan LEAF's artificial noise, and the drive to make car makers add a constant, artificial noise to plug ins and hybrids? Should we drive ahead, full-steam, into a world of artificial car noise, right at the point when we've actually figured out a way to make things quieter?
- EV drivers add voices to noise and safety debate
- National Federation of Blind pushes for constant noise for EVs
- Pedestrian, bicycle groups not as loud as NFB on EV noise
- Big automakers support artificial noise for EVs
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Web blogs by current solar-charged drivers
-- Peder Norby's Electric BMW ActiveE Blog
-- Darell Dickey's EV Nut Web Site
-- Doug Korthof's Live Oil Free Pages
-- The Solar-Charged Electric Car Page
-- Solar Power and Electric Cars
-- Sun Powered EVs
-- Ecogeeco Web Site