Are Electric Cars Too Quiet?

Green Light

There are about 300,000 electric vehicles on the road today. Considering there are over 254 million vehicles on American roads that is not a big part of the country’s vehicle fleet, but with advances in battery technology and lower prices that number is bound to grow.

One issue with all the new electric cars (that had never occurred to me) is the fact that they make little if any noise. Push the start button in a Nissan Leaf and you’ll have to check the gauges to make sure it’s running. Now, I never thought of this as a problem. After all, car manufacturers have been trying to make the engines and exhaust quieter for decades, so a silent car seems great—if you’re crossing the street absorbed in your smartphone, however, you probably appreciate a little engine noise to warn you about the car making a left across the crosswalk. And what about the blind population?

The NHTSA is aware of this and has asked automakers to add some noise to their electric vehicles. They have also proposed a rule to require electric vehicles to make noise when they’re travelling under 18mph.

“Even as we make giant leaps forward with hybrid and electric vehicles, we must remain laser focused on safety,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “With more and more quiet vehicles on the road, we have to consider their effect on pedestrians.”1

Now pedestrian safety is important, but what I’m really wondering about is: What sounds are they going to make? Fortunately, the NHTSA has release some initial ideas for what they’ll sound like.

Click here to listen to the proposed sounds.

I hope they go with the Jetsons Flying car as a template!

1 NHTSA. NHTSA Studying Environmental Impact of ‘Quieter Cars’ N.p., 7 July 2011. Web. 9 Jan. 2013. <>.

Michael Bowen


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