The Sounds of Silence Redux

During the first half of the Drive for Innovation around-the-country drive in the Chevy Volt, the first conversations started stirring over one of the greatest features of electric and hybrid-electric vehicles: how quiet they are.

The problem is, they're apparently too quiet, at least for the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Earlier this year, the NHTSA proposed adding sounds to EV and PHEVs running below 18 mph (30 kph). (I'm not convinced a pure EV running faster than 18 mph makes enough tire noise to be considered safe either, but whatever.)

NHTSA, in announcing the public commenting period, estimates “that if this proposal were implemented there would be 2,800 fewer pedestrian and pedalcyclist injuries over the life of each model year of hybrid cars, trucks and vans, and low-speed vehicles, as compared to vehicles without sound.”

For reference, there were 4,280 pedestrian fatalities (13 percent of total traffic fatalities) and 618 bicycle-car fatalities in 2010 (1.9 percent of total traffic fatalities), according to NHTSA data.

NHTSA's “preferred alternative” (one of several, including no action) “would establish minimum sound requirements within specific one-third octave band ranges between 160 and 5000 Hz for EVs and HVs at idle through 30 km/h, as well as when in reverse,” according to the agency. Required sound levels would range from the low 40s dB (idle) to around 60 dB (at 18 mph). Another alternative favored by automotive manufacturers and used in Japan calls for sound up to 44 dB only on motion and only up to 12 mph (20 kph).

You knew this was coming. And in the age of the downloadable app, in the era of the ringtone, this presents a huge new opportunity for drivers to customize their EVs and PHEVs. Artificial engine noise would be so completely lame, but you have to figure that'll be an option.

But how about a lion growl? Elk bugle? Uncontrolled laughter? Chainsaw noise? How about easing into the school parking zone blaring “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven's 9th? Driving into the parking lot at work with Mozart's Requiem?

How would you customize your car's sounds? Share your thoughts below.

Editor's note: This blog was originally posted on EBN sister site Drive For Innovation. Share your thoughts in the comments field.

12 comments on “The Sounds of Silence Redux

  1. SP
    September 12, 2013

    If one can customize the car sounds, it would be fantastic. People would like to play around when their spouses ,friends or kids are in car. When they reach specific place or reach some take away restsurants. It would be fun.

  2. _hm
    September 12, 2013

    If car sound is customized, the whole purpose of warning others is lost. If they add sound to EV, it should be uniform or may be two or three sounds only.


  3. Eldredge
    September 12, 2013

    Maybe the sound of a balooga horn, or the sound of a heard of buffalo approaching….

    September 13, 2013

    We could go back to the old days and have a guy walking in front of the car waving a red flag.  I suppose then we could go back even further and have another guy picking up the wee battery pellets falling off the rear end of the car.

  5. SP
    September 13, 2013

    Many times the roads in india are crowded withh cows and buffalo, it would be helpful if car's sound can be customized.

  6. prabhakar_deosthali
    September 15, 2013

    A couple of years back , I had a chance to see an Electric Sportsbike which could run like a real sports bike on the plain roads as well as country side but made no sound.

    To give the thrill of riding a roaring sports bike the designer had installed an electronic engine noise generator which compensated for the silent electric motor.


    Such simulated noise can make up for the silent operation of electric vehicles especially on the busy streets where currently a lot of honking is required.


    The beauty of such simulated noise that it can be turned off when say driving at night so as not to disturb the roadside dwellers' sleep

  7. Wale Bakare
    September 15, 2013

    I can foresee vehicles turning completely to ECU systems and with internet of things many innovations might get integrated in future vehicles. Sound customization would be a good idea for a thickly populated and less inhabitant cities.

  8. Wale Bakare
    September 15, 2013

    >>We could go back to the old days and have a guy walking in front of the car waving a red flag<<

    Have we exhausted all innovations yet? I could see that happen though, but we are thousand years ahead of us.

  9. Adeniji Kayode
    September 15, 2013


    That might not be a bad idea, its just that a lot of people will go to the extreme and abuse it alot and make others uncomfortable.

  10. Adeniji Kayode
    September 15, 2013


    You are right, I agree with you on that.

    If care is not taken on that, it will move from warning others to scarring others.

  11. Adeniji Kayode
    September 15, 2013


    And don't you think that could lead to scarring or harassing other road users?

  12. Wale Bakare
    September 15, 2013

    >>its just that a lot of people will go to the extreme and abuse it alot and make others uncomfortable<<

    That may not necessarily come from vehicle owner. Protecting it from being hacked when vehicle owner do not expect it to trigger off or a vehicle that hijacked completely by a nearby hackers?


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