Europe's Solution to Silent EVs and Pedestrian Safety

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【Summary】An increase in EVs on the road would lead to less noise pollution from cars and possibly create a less stressful environment for pedestrians.

Michael Cheng    Jun 30, 2018 2:00 PM PT
Europe's Solution to Silent EVs and Pedestrian Safety

The silent nature of EVs is a great feature that has faced scrutiny by European lawmakers. Electrified cars that operate quietly contribute to less noise pollution. But from a different perspective, it is very difficult to evade a fast-moving EV that cannot be heard from a safe distance – especially over roadside construction projects and large crowds during peak hours.

With the rise of distractions in the form of smartphones and animated billboards in cities, this conflicting debate has forced European lawmakers to look into new guidelines for EVs.

Artificial Noise and Notifications

In Europe, officials have proposed new laws to make EVs easily detectable. By 2019, new EVs and hybrids must make noise. And by 2021, all electrified cars and hybrids are required to be audible. The type of noise and volume of the notification have not been established. Many are expecting a distinguishable tone that offers information about the general direction the car is moving in. To clarify, there will not be an option to turn off the sound, which was the cause of an accident involving an EV and a blind pedestrian walking with a guide dog in Japan.

"So-called ‘Acoustic Vehicle Alerting Systems' requirements shall ensure that only adequate sound generating devices are used. The fitting as such will be mandatory for all electric and hybrid electric vehicles after a transitional period of five years," said the European Commission.

"This will increase road safety and undoubtedly help avoiding road-accident injuries."

In Canada, a handful of electric buses have already adopted audible alerts for pedestrians. When passing through the busy locations, the vehicle lets out a bell chime. Instead of relying on loud volume, it uses a distinct tone to catch the attention of local residents in the area.

Dealing with Noise Pollution

The benefits of silent or low-noise EVs are numerous and often unacknowledged. An increase in EVs on the road would lead to less noise pollution from cars and possibly create a less stressful environment for pedestrians.

This aspect of EVs was highlighted in a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. According to the study, loud sounds from vehicles may contribute to stress and heart disease.

Exposure to noise above 60 decibels is the threshold for increased risk of heart disease. Most vehicles on the road today emit around 70 decibels of sound. While loud sounds aren't directly related to the onset of major cardiovascular issues, they can make such health concerns worse.

According to Steve Kopecky from Mayo Clinic, startling responses to noise can initiate a constricting reaction in arteries and increase blood pressure. Based on this information, a pleasant, non-aggressive chime – like the tone adopted by electric buses in Canada – could be an ideal warning sound for EVs.

"Ten years ago, people were saying that noise is just annoying, but now I think there's considerable evidence that noise makes you sick, and one of the predominate diseases is cardiovascular disease," explained Thomas Münzel, lead author of the health study, during an interview with The Washington Post.

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