As of July 1, all electric cars in Europe must be fitted with sound-emitting technology to reduce the risk of danger to pedestrians accustomed to noisy internal combustion engines.
While the extremely quiet operation of electric vehicles is often touted as another bonus for the emerging zero emissions form of transport, this silence is believed to present a risk to other road users, particularly the vision-impaired and their companion animals.
To mitigate this problem, the EU is introducing legislation from Monday that requires all four-wheeled vehicles to be fitted with acoustic vehicle alert systems (AVAS).
As noted on Euroblind, a UK study released in 2013 showed that despite a reduction in incidents involving internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles resulting in pedestrian injury, there was an increase in the number of incidents involving electric vehicles:
The number of accidents where pedestrians are injured by EVs/EHVs has increased, from 98 in 2012 to 151 in 2013, an increase of 54%.
Whereas 2013 represented a record low for such accidents involving internal combustion vehicles, it was a new high for electric/hybrid-electric vehicles, with the percentage increase in accidents far outstripping the increase in vehicle numbers.
With electric vehicle uptake in Europe and the UK now well and truly on a steady incline, a decade of campaigning has resulted in the new EU legislation.
The regulation, listed as ‘Regulation on the Sound Level of Motor Vehicle’ on the EU’s legislation website, states that for all electric vehicles the AVAS must be operating at a minimum of 56 decibels when the vehicle is driving at speeds up to 20km/hr, and no louder than 75 decibels.
That’s about the same level as an electric toothbush or paper shredder, says acoustic device maker Harman, which has been developing AVAS devices for the past decade.
“Given the ever-increasing number of hybrid and electric vehicles on our roads, the risk to pedestrians, cyclists and vulnerable groups has risen exponentially over the years,” said Rajus Augustine, senior director for car audio product strategy at Harman in a note by email.
“AVAS technologies … offer an affordable and effective way of increasing pedestrian awareness of an approaching EV in noisy urban environments.”
Designed particularly for certain situations – including when a vehicle is backing out of a carpark, or pulling into a driveway at slow speeds – the new rule also states that the AVAS sound ‘should be a continuous one providing the vehicle driving behaviour to other road users and pedestrians.’
For example, there must be changes in the sound level and pitch to indicate the vehicle’s acceleration.
Carmakers are coming up with some interesting approaches to the new rule.
Japanese carmaker Nissan has created a non-obtrusive but high-pitched whistle for forwarding vehicles and a light beeping sound for reverse.
European auto group Mercedes-AMG is taking the need for an instantly recognisable sound seriously, asking US rock band Linkin Park to create sounds for its upcoming EQC electric car.
Taking it to another level, German carmaker BMW has employed an expert in acoustic design, Hollywood film composer Hans Zimmer, to create a suite of sounds designed to connect drivers with their cars.
While Zimmer is best known for composing scores for movies such as The Dark Knight, Inception, Interstellar, and Blade Runner 2049, he is now working on his latest masterpiece – the drive sounds and signals for BMW’s futuristic Vision I-Next.
A part of BMW’s “IconicSounds Electric”, the sample below is an example of BMW’s recognition of the connection that drivers have with their cars.
“We want to get BMW IconicSounds Electric in position for customers who value emotional sound. With BMW IconicSounds Electric they will be able to experience the joy of driving with all their senses,” said BMW senior VP Jens Thiemer in a statement.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.