News – Testing Done on Quiet Electric Cars

It’s been brought up in this magazine before that electric cars may be so quiet when running that they may be undetectable to a visually impaired pedestrian. While this sentiment was held as a truth, tests have now been done to confirm its validity, and with predictable conflicting results.
With gas prices as high as they are, electric cars are becoming more and more attractive to drivers looking to save some money, especially drivers in a city environment. Without a classic gasoline or diesel motor, there is no combustion or exhaust noise, making the electric cars supposedly quieter by comparison. This is something that has worried advocacy groups in many countries and has led to, in some cases, legislation requiring electric cars to produce some sort of prominent audible noise while operating.
So, as a result, studies have been performed to see just how quiet these new electric cars are. In one experiment, the noises generated by cars with gasoline and electric engines were compared as they performed multiple maneuvers at varying speeds. The study shows that at low speed–roughly 5 miles per hour–electric cars are only one decibel quieter than their gasoline counterparts. When speeds increased to about 12 miles per hour, they sounded nearly identical–with both exhibiting prominent tire noise. With this study, they concluded that there was not any significant noise difference between the two to suggest that a pedestrian would be able to clearly differentiate between the two types of vehicles.
In another test, though, ten visually impaired participants were asked to listen to audio recordings–to simulate them standing on a curb at an intersection–to see when they could hear the electric vehicle. They found that in semi-rural areas, the risk posed by electric cars was 1.4 times greater than conventional cars and 1.3 times greater in urban areas. Across the board, they found that electric cars were much more difficult to detect when pulling away from a stop.
The Department of Transport’s main concern is protecting the public from hazards, but currently, even though electric cars may pose a potential risk, there are still so few people with electric cars that any sort of regulatory action will surely be delayed.
What are your thoughts about electric cars and what, if any, regulatory action needs to take place to protect visually impaired citizens? Do you think more testing needs to be done to come to a concrete conclusion? Let us know in the Reader’s Forum.

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