Let the cars make noise

Let the cars make noise
Let the cars make noise

That’s an order: le the cars make noise. It does not matter that the world is getting noisier and that there are countries like Japan or Spain that are in the first and second place respectively of the noisiest countries in the world, but now the manufacturers of electric cars, famous for their silent movement, are required to make noise.

Let the electric cars make noise
Let the electric cars make noise

As it sounds, different countries and supranational organizations are working to regulate these cars and force them to make noise. The reason is obvious: if a pedestrian does not hear the car approaching, the risk of car having an accident increases. And it is curious, because at the same time that noise is being added to silent cars, other companies are starting to sell more and more noise-canceling headphones. And unlike vehicles, nothing and no one prevents users from using these headsets when they are on the road.

Let the cars make noise

In the case of Europe, from July 1, 2019, newly approved electric and hybrid cars must include an acoustic warning system or AVAS, but in addition, European Community law establishes that this will be obligatory on all electric or hybrid vehicles from July 1, 2021.

“This new regulation aims to reduce accidents that are a consequence of the low noise level of this type of vehicle, whose electric motor barely emits any sound at low speeds, making them a potential danger to pedestrians or cyclists because they cannot identify their presence”.

And the truth is that there is evidence of this. A 2014 study cited by the British Parliament in the processing of a law similar to the European one, states that electric and hybrid cars cause 40% more accidents to pedestrians than noisy conventional cars. This fits in with another study that determines that pedestrians must be 74% closer to an electric car to hear it compared to an internal combustion engine car.

In this respect, the European Union states that vehicles to which the regulations apply must exceed 56 decibels (more or less the noise of a conversation) when they are driven at less than 20 kilometres per hour, never exceeding 75 decibels, which is the level of combustion engines. The AVAS will have to be activated automatically from the start to that speed, as well as when the car is in reverse. The noise has to be “indicative of the vehicle’s behaviour”, that is, it will have to vary as it does in a combustion engine.

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

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

As a curiosity, 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. Here is an example of the sound that will be emitted by the car-concept BMW Vision M Next.

In a similar vein is the United States, which has been fighting for a similar standard since 2010. The regulation, finally approved in February 2018, requires all electric and hybrid vehicles to make noise that is audible to pedestrians, cyclists and the blind when these cars are moving at speeds of up to 30 kilometers per hour. All “silent cars” must implement this noise by September 2020, although by September 2019, 50% of electric and hybrid cars were expected to have it already implemented.

The UK is not far behind. From July 1, 2019, all British manufacturers must implement acoustic systems in their cars to prevent possible accidents caused by the silence of the cars. This sound has to be active up to 20 km/h and must be “similar to that made by a conventional engine” and can “be temporarily deactivated if the driver deems it necessary”.

Meanwhile, the headphones isolate us from the noise

Noise increases and sales of noise-canceling headphones also increase
Noise increases and sales of noise-canceling headphones also increase

However, the most curious thing is that this forms a dichotomy capable of putting Socrates himself in check. On the one hand, the European standard requires electric and hybrid cars to make noise, but at the same time, companies and users continue to opt for noise-canceling headphones. They come in different formats, sizes and colours, but they all have one thing in common: they isolate the user from the outside world by offering only music, and nothing else.

So what can you do here?

On the one hand, pedestrians no longer want more noise and isolate themselves from it with the help of the technology, and on the other hand, car manufacturing companies are forced to make their electric cars make noise.

The problem here is that people in many countries of the world can be fined or penalized for using headphones that keep them away from potential dangers when they go out on the street.

A complex picture that can be expressed very easily with an example. If a pedestrian wears a noise-canceling headset and runs a red light, the penalty he may receive is not for being absent-minded or wearing headphones, but for having run the light. In short, it doesn’t matter if you wear headphones, because you are not punished for being absent-minded, in fact, you are punished for having run the red light.

Globally, pedestrians are considered “vulnerable” alongside cyclists and motorcyclists” and they generally bear the brunt of all road accidents.

According to several studies, 98% of accidents involving pedestrians are said to be caused by the use of smartphones and the risk to pedestrians can increase by 40% when using a mobile phone and headset at the same time. Although it is always recommended not to use headphones or the same phone when walking, the truth is that this is a rule that nobody complies with and it would not be strange that while you are reading this article, you are violating that rule.

One of the proposals to “improve” the care of headset users is that of Xiaofan Jiang, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Columbia University, who has developed a prototype Pedestrian Audio Warning System (PAWS). This system uses artificial intelligence to detect traffic sound and alert the user when a vehicle might put its integrity at risk. Theoretically, it works with vehicles up to 60 meters away.

Computers describing images, the latest in AI
Computers describing images, the latest in AI

On countless occasions there has been talk of putting up signs on the ground as “traffic lights for distracted pedestrians” and Tesla even plans to add sounds to its cars to alert pedestrians of their presence and movements. It also looks like it will reproduce sounds of flatulence when you toot the horn, but that’s another matter. Finally, all these “measures” are aimed at exactly the same thing: that we pay attention to what we are doing when we are on the street, something that, regardless of whether or not it is regulated by a rule, we should always do.


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