EVs and the the sounds of silence.


Not so many years ago when I was growing up, cars on the bypass that went around our town weren’t actually that common. There were tranches of days when there just weren’t any/many. I remember sitting on the verge doing a census of car models for a primary school project and waiting for something to happen. What gave away the imminent approach of a car was the noise of its engine and its tyres on the road. Maybe more engine than tyre noise, then. We could only dream of EVs and the the sounds of silence.

Interestingly, every child recorded the same data. Do the same thing today and the flow of traffic is so heavy that the data is different in every case; some kids don’t recognise car models as readily as others and there isn’t time to confer.

Later on when Lexus launched its hybrid model, I jumped out of my skin the first time I felt the presence of one behind me, running on electricity in a carpark. I didn’t hear it coming while I walked across the road looking at my phone.

Just last weekend, my wife was nearly knocked down by a road cyclist while walking the dog through our village. Stealth cyclists are deadly – you have to watch out for them. And stealth cars are coming.

Had she been hit, whose fault is that? Well, clearly, hers. If she steps out in front of a bike on a road and gets hit, the claim is on her.

Now we have electric vehicles more widely, and can look forward to a time when we are rid of engine noise, we should rejoice and enjoy the forthcoming relative peace. For years, noise abatement lobbies and policies have been driving traffic noise levels down, but the background drone of traffic in rural areas as well as urban ones remains inescapable.

So the advent of quieter vehicles is a welcome development. But wait! Now there are calls to replace car engine noise with an audible warning of its arrival. Why? Because pedestrians can’t hear them coming.

Let’s have a look at this. We hate traffic noise and want rid of it. We go to less-populated places to get a break from it. We know that long-term exposure to low-level noise is unhealthy, and yet it’s being suggested that a noise we just engineered out of the environment be replaced with another kind.

How about we don’t do that? How about we all take responsibility and listen up? Teach our kids to look away from their phones (use the voice control) and see what’s coming? Take the headphones out. It may sound old-fashioned, but wouldn’t it encourage us to take back responsibility before legislators decide that we need protecting from ourselves?

Here’s a funny thing. Every day, in many countries, motor collisions are avoided because drivers observe a convention. That simple line that runs down the middle of the road keeps people alive. And, because the rule is an old one, there isn’t a person alive who isn’t native to the condition. It works and is completely voluntary.

Auto suppliers like tyre manufacturers have the opportunity to develop the aural environment at motor racing events by engineering sound into the interface between tyres and the track. It could be immense. It would be innovative.

Calling for self-announcing-EV cars on the road isn’t. Lots of cars and lots of people not looking left and right could resolve the problem anyway.

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