Electric vehicles such as Teslas are known for being incredibly quiet. Without an internal combustion engine’s controlled explosions under the hood, electric cars are capable of operating in near-total silence. This, according to a new EU rule, will be changed soon.
A new EU rule coming into force on Monday requires new electric vehicles to be equipped with a pedestrian noisemaker. The new regulations follows concerns that low-emission vehicles such as battery-electric cars are simply too quiet for the road, making them a risk for pedestrians, cyclists, and visually-impaired individuals (among others). According to the new ruling, a car’s Acoustic Vehicle Alert System (AVAS) must be engaged when reversing or traveling below 12 mph (19 km/h).
In its ruling, the EU noted that vehicles usually back up or travel at low speeds in areas that are near people, such as city streets or crosswalks, though the new regulations does allow drivers to deactivate their vehicles’ pedestrian noisemakers as necessary. By 2021, the EU noted that all electric vehicles — not just new models coming to the market — must be equipped with an AVAS.
Quite interestingly, the ruling mentioned that the noise-emitting devices would give EVs a sound that is similar to a “traditional engine,” according to a BBC report. This particular detail is notable, since making electric vehicles sound identical to conventional cars will likely result in some levels of noise pollution, something that EVs completely avoid.
Road noises, after all, are considered the second most harmful environmental stressor in Europe, surpassed only by air pollution. The European Federation for Transport and Environment (also known as Transport and Environment or T&E), for one, notes that vehicle noises are a “major cause, not only of hearing loss, but also of heart disease, learning problems in children and sleep disturbance.”
On the flip side, pedestrian noisemakers do make it far easier for the visually impaired to detect where vehicles are on the road. This was highlighted by Guide Dogs for the Blind, a charity that has complained about the absence of sounds from low-emission vehicles. Guide Dogs welcomed the new EU ruling, though the group noted that it would be better if EVs are required to produce sounds at all speeds.
The UK’s Minister of State at the Department for Transport, Michael Ellis, noted in a statement to the publication that the ruling came about as a result of the government wanting the “benefits of green transport to be felt by everyone,” while considering the safety needs of people at the same time. “This new requirement will give pedestrians added confidence when crossing the road,” he said.
While the consideration for the visually-impaired is quite admirable in the new ruling, it is quite interesting to see the EU regulations require electric vehicles to sound like traditional gas cars. EVs, after all, could have their own unique sound, as could be seen in the Jaguar I-PACE, the Audi e-tron, and even the prototype units of the Porsche Taycan. Even Tesla seems to be working on an AVAS, as hinted at by what appears to be a speaker grille on a Model 3’s underbody. Nevertheless, when Tesla rolls out its vehicles’ pedestrian noisemakers, one could be assured that it would be designed to minimize noise pollution, and it would most likely not simulate the sounds of a “traditional” engine.