Regulating electric cars to make noise: Prevents pedestrians from using noise canceling headphones

In the European case, from July 1, 2019 , newly approved electric and hybrid cars must include an acoustic warning system, but in addition, European Community law establishes that this is mandatory in all electric or hybrid vehicles as of July 1, 2021. “It aims to reduce accidents that are a consequence of the low noise level of these types of vehicles, whose electric motor barely emits sound at low speeds, which makes them a potential danger for pedestrians or cyclists because they cannot identify their presence.”

And there is evidence of that, of course. A 2014 study cited by the British Parliament in the processing of a law similar to the European law states that electric and hybrids cause 40% more pedestrian abuses than conventional (and noisy) cars. It matches another study that determines that pedestrians must be 74% closer to an electric car to listen to it compared to a combustion car.

Cars that didn't make noise now have to do it

What does the European Union say? That the vehicles to which the regulations are applied must exceed 56 decibels (more or less the noise of a conversation) when driving below 20 kilometers per hour, never exceeding 75 decibels, which is the level of Thermal motors. The AVAS will have to be activated automatically from the start up to that speed, in addition to when the car goes in reverse. The noise must be “indicative of the behavior of the vehicle”, that is, it will have to vary as it does in a combustion engine.

In hybrid vehicles, which combine a thermal engine with an electric motor, the AVAS does not have to generate any noise when the combustion engine is operational, nor will it be necessary to do so by reversing. And this, which may sound logical, goes against the recommendations of the World Health Organization, which states that the maximum murmur should be 53 decibels by day and 45 decibels at night .

Silent cars should have a noise level of 56 decibels, but WHO recommends that the maximum level be 53 decibels

As a curious fact, the manufacturer can offer different sounds from which the user can choose . Therefore, many manufacturers such as Audi , Jaguar , Toyota or BMW have worked on making special sounds to improve the driving experience. For tastes, colors, but if I have to choose one I prefer the BMW Vision M Next concept car.

In a similar line is the United States, which had been fighting for a similar rule since 2010. The regulations, finally approved in February 2018, provide that all electric and hybrid vehicles make audible noise for pedestrians, cyclists and blind people when they move to speeds of up to 30 kilometers per hour. All “silent cars” must implement this noise by September 2020, although in September 2019 it was expected that 50% of electric and hybrid cars would have already implemented it.

United Kingdom more of the same . From July 1, 2019, all manufacturers have to implement acoustic systems in their cars to prevent possible accidents resulting from silence. This sound must be active up to 20 km / h and must be “similar to what a conventional engine does” and can “be temporarily deactivated if the driver deems it necessary”.

Meanwhile, headphones isolate us from noise

We thus have a dichotomy capable of putting Socrates himself in check. On the one hand, the European standard requires that electric and hybrid cars make noise, but at the same time companies (and users) do not stop betting on headphones with noise cancellation . There are different formats, sizes and colors, from the Sony WH-1000XM3 to the AirPods Pro , but they all have something in common: they want to isolate the user from the outside world. Music, and nothing else.

Silent cars should have a noise level of 56 decibels, but WHO recommends that the maximum level be 53 decibels

With regard to pedestrians, there is nothing that prevents them from using headphones (with or without noise cancellation) and cannot be penalized for it.

It is very easy to see it with an example. If a pedestrian is wearing headphones with noise cancellation and a red light is skipped, the penalty he can receive is not for being clueless or with headphones, but for having missed the traffic light . In a nutshell, it doesn’t matter if you wear headphones, because the fact of being clueless is not sanctioned, but of skipping the traffic light.

In the balance of accidents that the DGT does every year, pedestrians fall into the “vulnerable” category with cyclists and motorcyclists. In 2019 alone, 115 pedestrians died, 22 less than last year, and although the DGT highlights data such as that 20% of those killed in cars did not wear a seat belt or that 16 of the 40 dead cyclists did not wear a helmet, they did not break down the reasons why pedestrians were run over.

On many occasions there has been talk of putting signs on the ground as a “traffic lights for distracted pedestrians” and even Tesla plans to add sounds to their cars to alert pedestrians of their presence and the movements they are going to make. It also seems that it will reproduce sounds of flatulence in a specific direction, but that is another theme. All these “measures” seek exactly the same thing: that we pay attention to what we are doing when we go down the street, something that, whether there is a rule or not, we should always do.

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