You Might Hear Some Strange Noises Coming From New EVs

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Once the US government approves it.

If you've ever driven an electric car - or even a plug-in hybrid car - you may have heard an odd noise when driving at low speeds. The sound differs slightly depending on the vehicle but in most cases, it is a sort-of white noise emitted from a speaker to alert pedestrians. In most cases, the noise can't be heard from inside the vehicle unless the window is rolled down, so EV and hybrid car drivers are likely unaware it even exists.

In the United States, EVs are required by law to make a noise below 18.6 miles per hour but there is no general consensus on what this noise needs to sound like. In fact, Reuters says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) may allow automakers to choose from multiple different sounds on their vehicles, opening up the floodgates for some fun possibilities.

2019-2020 Jaguar I-Pace Front View Driving Jaguar Land Rover
2019-2020 Jaguar I-Pace Rear View Driving Jaguar Land Rover

Automakers submitted a petition to the NHTSA asking for the agency "to remove the current limitation of one sound per vehicle model." The NHTSA is now seeking public comment "on whether there should be a limit to the number of compliant sounds that a manufacturer can install in a vehicle and what that limit should be." As of now, all "quiet" vehicles are required to have at least one sound by September 2020 and 50% were required to have one by September 1, 2019.

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When the vehicle reaches higher speeds, tire and wind noise become loud enough, so there is no longer a need for an additional sound to be played. In our experience testing EVs and hybrids, the noise reminds us of a Playstation 2 during its boot-up sequence but if the NHSTA changes the rules, automakers could install an option to let drivers chose their sound in a vehicle menu. For example, wouldn't it be neat if your EV could sound like a rumbling V8 at low speeds?

The NHTSA says hybrids and EVs are 19% more likely to be involved in a pedestrian crash and the addition of these sounds should help prevent around 2,400 injuries annually by 2020.

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2019-2020 Jaguar I-Pace Front View Driving
2019-2020 Jaguar I-Pace Rear View Driving
2017-2019 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell Front Side in Motion
2017-2019 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell Rear Angle in Motion
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