- L​oud. Saves your life. Apparently.

T​he silence of the amps

E​lectric car makers need to give us the horn

1y ago

There are people who think electric cars are dangerous, because pedestrians can’t hear them coming. But I think this is nonsense.

European legislators agree, though, because from now on, new EVs must emit a noise ‘similar’ to that of an internal combustion engine, at a volume of 56dB, when travelling below 20kph. US legislators also agree, although they’ve set the limit at 30kph, perhaps because Americans take longer to react. It’s still nonsense.

Firstly, this ruling is clearly aimed at improving pedestrian safety in towns, but the beauty of EVs is that they will make towns much quieter, which means better sleep, more agreeable pavement cafes, and a general improvement in wellbeing. What is the point of, finally, achieving what Rolls-Royce has been attempting for over a century – a silent car – and then adding a fake noise to it? If all IC cars are replaced by EVs but they all emit 56dB in town, we’ll be back where we started.

I have a more serious objection, though. As a pedestrian, it is not your responsibility not to be run over. As a driver, it’s your job not to run over people. If you cross the road without looking, you’re a bit of a plonker, but if you’re driving, you should expect people to do it. If you support the idea of an Audible Vehicle Alert System you’re basically saying you rely on the noise a car makes to keep pedestrians safe. That’s not really good enough.

'​...you're a bit of a plonker.'

Charities for the blind are pleased with this new law, and I get that. But I haven’t heard much from the deaf (not intended as a joke). If you can’t hear at all, then even the noise made by a 60s American muscle car isn’t going to help you.

I’ve been saying for years that what we actually need – what all new cars need, as most conventional cars are pretty quiet at low speeds – is some sort of polite horn.

The other day, for example, I was driving my EV out in the sticks and came up behind a woman walking her dog in the middle of the road. She hadn’t heard me. So now what was I to do? I couldn’t blow the normal horn, because that would be unbelievably rude and might have given her a heart attack. So I had to follow her at 2mph until the dog needed a poo and she turned off into the hedgerows.

What I really needed was a horn that made a discreet ‘ahem’ sound, or maybe a donkey honk, or even a few bars of Michael Bubbly, because that’s enough. If it also emitted a strong but low-frequency vibration, maybe deaf people could also ‘hear’ it.

Here’s a thought. Tesla famously equips its cars with a hilarious device for making fart noises come out of the passenger seats when you press one of the steering wheel buttons. Very funny, Elon.

Would be a lot more useful on the outside of the car.

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Comments (289)

  • How about Stephen Hawking's voice, politely saying 'Excuse me' at about 56db?

      1 year ago
  • Good to see you James, it's been a while since I've taken to one of your musings. This reminds me of a key quote in fight club but starts with something to do with tea. Or at least that's what they tell me as I was not there at the time. The British seem drawn like a magnet to topics that open themselves to every minute legislation of personal freedom. No doubt a decade from now I will travel to London and find I no longer need to worry about traffic signals when I'm walking because the cars will automatically stop for me. Added a freedom there now let's look at the cost. Ev's represent a slow sliding slippery slope of losing an important piece of culture and freedom. We have already lost the power to stop our vehicle, police will be happy with that one. Today you take away our horn and tie a cow bell around our neck at slow speeds and I promise you it'll not end until every minute detail of car freedom has been legislated to the point of exhaustion. So greatly increased regulation and meaningless expense added to a product that as of yet produces far less utility is what I see here. Although I greatly applaud the effort to bring a wider array of more powerful fun to market I'm not ready to embrace this fluegelbinder yet. Hopefully on this side of the pond we can sit back and learn from this mistake. Best case scenario this brings us back to that infamous flight club quote. Worst brings us back to tea. If you want to put a skip in the step of Tesla owners just release a computerless V8 version with a Holley carb and straight pipe at a tenth the cost. Always love the debate James! Try not to worry too much about that one led headlight bulb that's burnt out. Cheers Kids in Karts_

      1 year ago
    • Excellent read Ben! Did I see somewhere on DT that Porsche is coming out with an EV of the 911? Maybe this is old news but I just discovered it today on DT. If so, I wonder what horn sound James would affix to it:)

        1 year ago
    • Well said. Thank you

        1 year ago
  • OK, so a fake motor sound addresses the problems of the hard of hearing, the blind, and even the stupid but the main problem with an EV is the lack of a real car smell. I'd suggest they enact a law that all EVs should have a small engine built in that emits the genuine smell of combusted fumes. We can't have people walking round city centres smelling nothing but coffee and bread.

    So the solution to EVs is to make them petrol driven.

      1 year ago
  • Actually, in my opinion, as a pedestrian, it is your responsibility to watch for cars so you don't get killed. It is the driver's responsibility alike to watch for pedestrians to avoid going to jail for killing someone. But I do think that a polite horn would be helpful in warning pedestrians.

      1 year ago
  • or, and i know this might seem strange, rolling down the window and saying, excuse me.

      1 year ago