Automotive

Dawn of the noisy electric car: EU laws requiring audible warning sounds take effect July 1

Dawn of the noisy electric car...
Companies like Harman are designing external warning audio systems for EVs, making a range of driving sounds that rise and fall in pitch with the vehicle's speed to give pedestrians an audible signal that there's a car coming
Companies like Harman are designing external warning audio systems for EVs, making a range of driving sounds that rise and fall in pitch with the vehicle's speed to give pedestrians an audible signal that there's a car coming
View 1 Image
Companies like Harman are designing external warning audio systems for EVs, making a range of driving sounds that rise and fall in pitch with the vehicle's speed to give pedestrians an audible signal that there's a car coming
1/1
Companies like Harman are designing external warning audio systems for EVs, making a range of driving sounds that rise and fall in pitch with the vehicle's speed to give pedestrians an audible signal that there's a car coming

From July 1, any electric vehicle with four or more wheels that wants to be approved for road use in the European Union is going to have to have an "Acoustic Vehicle Alert System," or AVAS, fitted, making a continuous noise of at least 56 decibels if the car's going 20 km/h (12 mph) or slower.

Pedestrians will have fewer reasons than ever to look up from their smartphone screens as they step out into European traffic, after Uniform Provisions Concerning the Approval of Quiet Road Transport Vehicles with Regard to their Reduced Audibility become EU law in a few weeks.

Designed to address the public's fear of quiet electric vehicles, the new laws require cars – not motorcycles – to make some kind of noise at slower speeds. The noise, which isn't prescribed to be any particular sound, must rise and fall in pitch to signal whether the vehicle is accelerating or decelerating.

Fifty-six decibels isn't particularly loud, mercifully – it's about the sound level of a running air con unit or electric toothbrush. A diesel truck, for example, will make about 85 decibels when it passes, and the rules state that the warning sounds can't be any louder than 75 decibels, or about the noise level of a regular dinosaur burning car. So the AVAS systems will make no difference at all to people who walk around with earphones in.

How these things will sound is anyone's guess right now, but here's some examples – first from Jaguar, which has gone with a weird kind of spaceship sound:

Jaguar I-PACE | Safety Sounds for the Visually Impaired

Then from BMW, which has gone with something a bit more engine-like:

BMW i3 Sound Design - BMW Group

And from Nissan, which seems to have gone for a bit of a jet airliner feel:

the new sound - Nissan LEAF

The rules explicitly allow automakers to give drivers a choice of engine sounds, provided they hit certain frequency markers and rise and fall with speed. It's unclear but unlikely that you'll be able to drive around with a pitch-shifting version of the Benny Hill theme tune playing, and frankly society's all the worse for it.

It all seems a bit reminiscent of the early days of the car industry to our ears – particularly the famous late 1800s rule where any self-propelled vehicle had to have a man walking in front of it with a big red flag. Then again, I might change my tune if my kid got splattered by a silent but deadly EV, and it's certainly going to be an important step for blind pedestrians, who are reportedly already breaking canes on EVs and hybrids.

There doesn't seem to be any research completed yet to prove a noisier EV is safer than a quiet one – a Norwegian study on the matter is due to present its results sometime this month. Here's hoping they sound cool enough to make up for the lost opportunity to carve out a little more peace and quiet in the urban audio spectrum.

Source: Harman / InterRegs

6 comments
52minus1
The sound is going to be designed so as to solicit attention so it's not the dB that's the issue but the nature of the sound itself. This is gonna drive people living near busy roads nuts. One of the key benefits of having electric vehicles, low noise pollution, being countered by bureaucrats. What's wrong with simply looking where you're going when you're walking near traffic?. The fact that there's a road is a very reliable indicator that there's going to be vehicles.
Wolf0579
"52 minus 1", This is for BLIND PEOPLE. I live near a campus with electric buses and there have been a few incidents already, luckily no one has been seriously injured. Besides, people living near busy roads shouldn't be bothered... busy roads are usually moving a little faster than 20kph. People living near urban expressways will hear a symphony of these sounds at rush hour, though.
Dave P.
Agree with "52minus1", A salient feature of 'leccy cars is the lack of noise pollution and if there are stacks of these slow-moving non-standardised musical boxes on wheels making goodness' knows how many different sorts of randomised noises in residential areas during peak times, I can see the poor folk who live there quietly going mad with the cacophony! This has not been thought through, blind people or not.
neutrino23
There has got to be a better way. Why not broadcast a Bluetooth signal that can be picked up by a phone? Seems like the two could negotiate a distance and direction to warn the person staring at their phone.
SoundRacer
Actually, there is a requirement in the EU legislation about how it should sound: "II.3. Sound type and volume ... and should sound similar to the sound of a vehicle of the same category equipped with an internal combustion engine." We deliver AVAS to several EV manufacturers and the preferred sounds range from standard 4 cylinder car to big diesel engine, but also designed computer generated sounds.
WB1200
Just like cell phones have ring tones, ev's will have car tones that you can download - sound like anything like the Millennium falcon, a top fuel funny car or The Jetsons flying car to name a few.