- L​oud. Saves your life. Apparently.

T​he silence of the amps

3w 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.