Should electric cars make a noise to alert pedestrians of their presence? It’s a divisive question which has strong support on both sides, both from electric car drivers, noise pollution experts, and organisations devoted to road safety.
Here at Transport Evolved, we’re firmly on the side which believes that requiring EVs to make an artificial noise at slow speed is frankly overkill: after all, in every country we can think of, the onus is on the driver to make sure they don’t hit a pedestrian, not the other way around.
Second, modern luxury cars — like palatial large-capacity Mercedes Benz sedans — are so well-built that even when their engines are purring away, it’s almost impossible to hear them running when you’re standing next to them. Yet they aren’t required to have noise-makers fitted.
Third, tyre noise (tire noise for all our U.S. readers) is so loud above anything more than a slow crawl that you can hear an EV coming anyway, rendering noise-makers a moot point.
Yet the argument carries on, with noise makers now mandatory in many markets around the world for hybrid and plug-in cars, ranging from the quiet space-age sound emitted from the Nissan LEAF to the fake V8 sound engineered by Lotus into its various plug-in concept cars, and the polite little ‘p-p-p-p-arp!’ of Chervolet’s pedestrian-friendly alert horn.
From our own experience and anecdotal evidence given to us by EV drivers around the world however, pedestrian warning alert systems don’t really make that much difference to our car’s auditory visibility. People still walk in front of cars fitted with pedestrian warning systems, just as they do in front of regular gasoline cars. And EVs without pedestrian warning systems are spotted by pedestrians — even visually-impaired ones — when driving by at normal, everyday around-town speeds.
So, if pedestrians and campaign groups say EVs are still too quiet, what are we to do to make them more visible?
Enter Norwegians Bård and Vegard Ylvis, (better known as the comic duo Ylvis), and their prime-time TV Show.
Better known for their weird yet somehow hypnotic viral music video The Fox, the crafty brothers and their guest of the week decided to improve the pedestrian-friendliness of a Kewett Buddy — a small 3-seat electric car sold in Norway — by putting on a pedestrian alert system made from the horns found on a train.
That’s right. A four-tone air-horn found on large freight trains.
We’re not sure how they managed it — nor how much of an impact the air horn made on the car’s range — but the results are hilarious, with pedestrians jumping left and right as the tiny EV creeps up behind them and *ahem* politely announces its presence.
So next time someone tells you your EV needs more noise, politely suggest you fit the air horn from a locomotive. We think they may change their mind.
Sidenote: While we really enjoyed the video, we should note that Bård (the one on the left) wasn’t apparently wearing his seatbelt during their little adventure scaring pedestrians around town. Please folks, buckle up for every trip, even if you’re filming a fun TV show, okay?
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