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Are Electric Vehicles Too Quiet?

A fast, yet silent electric car zooming down the street. Are these too quiet to be safe on our roads?

Energy efficiency over safety

There is quiet, and then there is too quiet. Researchers fear that hybrid and electric cars are unsafe for hard of hearing individuals and pedestrians.

Hybrids and fully electric cars recently experienced a growth in popularity with new high efficiency rechargeable batteries and charging stations across all major Canadians cities. In addition, the provincial kickback was certainly a major contributor to the boom of electric and hybrid car purchases.  These vehicles help cut down on fuel consumption and air pollution. While many may be enjoying the smooth and silent ride, some researchers fear that these vehicles may be too quiet for the Deaf and hard of hearing community. There is also reason for concern for children and distracted pedestrians.

A study conducted by the University of California found that normal hearing individuals could detect a gas powered car 36 feet away when blindfolded.  In comparison, when an electric car drove past them, they could only detect it when it was 11 feet away.

Researchers repeated that same study and added background noise to stimulate real-life city noise. In those conditions the gas-powered car could be detected only 22 feet away when blindfolded. The electric vehicle was undetectable.


Should Electric Vehicles Emit Noise ?

It’s clear that hard of hearing individuals and even children are at a risk of missing an incoming electric vehicle. Suggested solutions to this problem were to add a simulated car noise or siren to any electric vehicles. But who would want an ambulance-like siren coming out of their new sleek energy efficient car? Although simulated sounds have not been added to electric cars,  their installation will likely be inevitable in the future as electric cars grow in popularity. In the meantime, everyone should remain vigilant when crossing the street so that an electric car doesn’t happen to sneak up on you.



Ryan L. Robart and Lawrence D. Rosenblum, Are hybrid cars too quiet?, published by The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America

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