The sound of silence: EVs now have to make noise in Europe

Photos: Nissan

Photos: Nissan

By Nicholas Yekikian

Now that hybrid and electric cars are so common - and quiet - the chance of an accident involving an electric car and a pedestrian has increased noticeably.

In 2013 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that the chances of an electric or hybrid vehicle being involved in a collision with a pedestrian was 19 percent higher when compared to a gas-powered vehicle. The safety administration also estimated that adding a level of noise could reduce collisions with bicyclists and pedestrians by about 2,400 cases per year.

A new law took effect in Europe Union countries today that attempts to mitigate collisions between electric cars and pedestrians. The new law mandates that all electric cars must sound like gas cars below 12 mph or while they’re backing up. This is an effort to protect blind pedestrians who wouldn’t be able to recognize an EV because of its signature silent acceleration. 

This is similar to a US law that will take effect in September of 2020, but 50% of cars will have to have this system in place by this September. In 2016, the NHTSA announced that electric and hybrid vehicles would have to emit some kind of noise while travelling at speeds below 19 mph. It was slated to take effect in September of this year, but the Trump administration has since rolled it back another year. This will give EV makers even more time to develop a proper solution to the newfound problem of EV silence.

Some electric vehicles, like the Hyundai Kona EV, already emit a sound as they accelerate, however. 

The big difference between the US law and the European law is that cars in Europe will have to sound like gas-powered cars. No word on just how automakers plan on making that happen, though. In the states, the NHTSA is considering allowing EV’s to make their own unique sounds and will, of course, have the benefit of more time to try and figure out what that noise will sound like. 

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