back to article US EV drivers won't be able to choose vehicle safety alert sounds

US regulators have sensibly ditched proposals to allow electric car manufacturers to offer a choice of sounds to warn pedestrians that the unusually quiet vehicles are approaching. Electric vehicles produce less noise when compared to cars powered by combustion engines, a situation that is considered a safety risk. The …

  1. chivo243 Silver badge

    My favorite!

    As kids we used a clothes pin and a playing card on our bikes to make them sound like motorcycles!

    1. Martin Summers

      Re: My favorite!

      I had to look up what they were called, but we used Kwenchy cups where I come from in the UK or occasionally a discarded can. Both stuck between the rear brake and tyre. Can't have been good for the tyre but sounded great.

  2. hob_bes

    Darn...

    And here I was looking forward to the day when an auto manufacturer offered the option to make their electric vehicles sound like George Jetson's car.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Darn...

      The Jetson cars was a trill, would make an excellent choice.

      But if you listen to a Honda hybrid in electric drive, they make a sound like the (SHADO) UFO flying saucer.

    2. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

      Alert Sounds

      Many of the electric cars around here emit (different, per-brand) futuristic space-car noises. As a frequent bicycle rider, I have a problem determining how quickly such a vehicle is approaching from behind me, and how close it is to me, vs petrol-engined vehicles.

      1. Richard Jones 1

        Re: Alert Sounds

        I am hard of hearing and my hearing aids are of limited benefit, draining down to zero benefit, when a moving object is too quiet. You do not have to a cyclist to need warnings.

  3. The man with a spanner

    "Satisfying our customers is a primary concern for OEMs.

    So what were they proposing - Rap for BMWs with tinted windows and Verdi for a Lexus?

    Or have I got my cultural stereotypes wrong?

    What absolute nonsense!

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. steelpillow Silver badge
    Facepalm

    There are bad and unbelievably bad, then there is insanely unbelievably mad...

    If some moto goes "hang on for the ride, dearie!" to the tune of The Ride of the Valkyries uncomfortably close behind my ear, I really do not want to have to stop and think about what is going on.

    There are so many reasons for honking off nowadays, they really do need to be standardised.

    [Wot no so-far-out-it's-in-the-wrong-universe icon?]

  6. Richard 12 Silver badge
    Unhappy

    So no selection at all?

    Aww, I'd hoped for "Main battle tank - gas turbine".

    Or perhaps "Misfiring two-stroke"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So no selection at all?

      Ice cream van chimes. Think of (winding up) the children.

      Then again you'd probably get sued when some overexcited kid ran into the traffic to get to you.

      1. The answer is 42

        Re: So no selection at all?

        The bell only rings when the seller is out of ice cream- dont burst my childrens bubble..

    2. Intractable Potsherd

      Re: So no selection at all?

      Quadruple Merlins (or Pegasus)!

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Would it be possible to get Spokey Dokes on my next EV instead? Asking for a friend.

  8. Patched Out
    Facepalm

    The odd part about this descision

    ... is that the NHTSA has nixed the idea of user selectable sounds, but apparently, at least for now, have not retricted the manufacturers on what sound(s) they can use. So if BMW or Cadillac did decide to use some rap beat, that would be OK as long as it isn't user selectable?

    1. sten2012

      Re: The odd part about this descision

      Unsure on this. User selectable noises refuted because of lack of evidence, but is there evidence that a completely standardised noise is required either?

      It feels like common sense to me that a standardised noise is better, but common sense is neither that common, nor always right.

      A "few" recognisable sounds doesn't seem like a massive issue to me, unless there is evidence suggesting there is a problem with that!

      Edit a few mins later: also unrelated from a consumer perspective I'd probably choose the most obnoxious noise possible to avoid any liability being mine if the choice had to be mine - I doubt I'd be alone and the roads would sound like a Vegas casino. Glad it's not on the consumer

  9. Scene it all

    Since you can not actually hear the sound from inside the car (with the windows closed), this is just a "look at me~ I'm cool" issue.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      This. Modern cars are already so damn quiet you can only hear them from the tires noise unless the owners decide to make them loud or deliberately buy them that way.

      This is a solution looking for a problem.

      1. ecofeco Silver badge

        LOL, found the three Microsoft fanbois.

  10. cornetman Silver badge

    What with noise pollution being an increasing issue in towns and cities, I was praying for the EV revolution to improve the sound environment for everyone.

    Noise pollution is a huge source of stress for a lot of people.

    Back when I used to work in a corner office, I remember at 6pm when the air conditioning went off for the night the feeling of an enormous weight being lifted off of my shoulders. The thing is, it wasn't really that noisy, just a low background drone. You just don't know how oppressive low-level noise can be until it is gone.

    I understand the problems that they are trying to address, but I really dread what these vehicles are going to be made to sound like.

    1. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Once the vast majority of vehicles are EV’s we could ditch this as tyre noise would be enough. I’m sighted but a runner. I recognise bike tyre noises very quickly so I can move over. usually before the rider has rung their bell (folk around here are good like that).

      I don’t listen to music when walking or running partly for this reason, I use my ears a lot. Hearing the declining notes of a car coming from behind as I approach a side road causes me to look and see their indicator for eg.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I'm a cyclist and often hear the noise of tyres on the road (especially the huge off-road treaded ones), however there are many instances when there is enough wind noise (through nearby trees or shrubs, around my ears and helmet) or other ambient noise that I do not hear the car until it is quite close. Not that this has been a problem for me -- yet -- but given how shite so many people drive already I have concern about removing any of the few warnings we have.

        As for type of noise, why not just have it sound like the EV's combustion-engine equivalent for car type, e.g., generic compact, four-door sedan, grocery getter (station wagon or SUV), land yacht luxury sedan, mini-pickup truck, and so on and be done with it?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Not the worst idea

          I am still open to something that is subdued but distinctive, but vintage engine sounds would be a reasonable solution, and since in most areas the ICE transition is going to take years, we will be hearing plenty of them anyway.

          You might also be able to lower the volume slightly when the ambient sound is lower, and crank it up when it is being drowned out by traffic noise. Either way, I think it is stupid to set this in stone while we haven't seen what works well yet. Only what doesn't,like a silent e-bike tyre jammed into a pedestrian's crack while the walk down the sidewalk.

        2. eldakka Silver badge

          > I'm a cyclist and often hear the noise of tyres on the road

          Right, but can you hear the tyre noise of a car stopped at a stop sign at an intersection? A car that is about to accelerate away - you need to know there is an 'active' but stationary vehicle so that you can anticipate a potential moving vehicle in a few seconds.

          Or a car slowly backing out of a driveway or parking space? Do they produce enough tyre noise to hear? Even if they produce enough tyre noise when moving slowly, when walking along the footpath pierced by driveways, it's nice to be able to get notice that a car might be about to start using that driveway by being able to hear an 'idling' car in the driveway, which signals that there soon may be a slowly moving vehicle.

          This proposal seems to be about vehicles moving at less than 30km/h - including stationary idling vehicles - for situations where tyre and wind noise may not be adequate to signal that there is a slowly moving or soon to be moving (in the case of stationary 'idling') vehicle.

          Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 141 requires electric vehicles to produce a pedestrian alert sound when stationary, reversing, and in forward gear up to a speed of 30 km/h.

        3. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          I can state from personal experience that even something as loud as a fighter jet doing five hundred or so knots a couple of hundred metres away is not noticeably audible over 30kph paraglider wind noise until a second or two before it passes.

          Once it's past, then you can hear it, but it's a bit late then... and also, you're a bit busy dealing with the wake turbulence.

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Richer sounds?

            I can state from personal experience that even something as loud as a fighter jet doing five hundred or so knots

            Not exactly a fighter, but perhaps appropriate for an EV fx file?

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1igQoRqpBA

            Or perhaps why EV's shouldn't allow drivers to pick their own music. I also ended up watching some superhero/action movie recently that had a motorbike chase.. Except the bikes were electric, and just sounded wrong. I guess it'll take a while for us to adjust to the idea of whiney motors indicating drama and excitement rather than just thinking it'll be a short chase due to range restrictions.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Richer sounds?

              "I guess it'll take a while for us to adjust to the idea of whiney motors indicating drama and excitement rather than just thinking it'll be a short chase due to range restrictions."

              Even now, with much of the world using digital TV and/or video, some productions still use the "snow" effect on screens with no signal for "dramatic effect" or obvious analogue signal break-up for weak signals :-)

          2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            "as loud as a fighter jet doing five hundred or so knots a couple of hundred metres away"

            At 500knts it's moved quite a distance in 1-2 seconds, ie nearly 260 metres per second, so possibly not really all that relevant to ground vehicles in an urban environment :-)

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          is for type of noise, why not just have it sound like the EV's combustion-engine equivalent for car type, e.g., generic compact, four-door sedan, grocery getter (station wagon or SUV), land yacht luxury sedan, mini-pickup truck, and so on and be done with it?

          Rolls Royce Merlin for mine then.

      2. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        This is not about you. This is about the blind. That there are also benefits for sighted people in some cases is simply a political argument.

        1. cornetman Silver badge

          > This is not about you. This is about the blind.

          It is about everybody that can hear. I'm pretty sure non-blind people will be able to hear these noises as well.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Rest assured, wire clippers can come to the rescue

      If the stock drone gets a little too loud.

  11. werdsmith Silver badge

    I’ve noticed that lorries have varying reversing sounds. Some are just ordinary high pitched beeps, others are like raucous crows.

    1. Steve Foster
      WTF?

      And pedestrians don't hear those! (or ignore them)

      I've witnessed countless instances where pedestrians have walked through the path of a reversing van or lorry, seemingly completely unaware that the large, heavy vehicle with limited visibility that can easily crush them is even there.

      1. eldakka Silver badge

        > And pedestrians don't hear those! (or ignore them)

        I think the problem is that the sound is so common now, so many vehicles emit this sound, it's not really a warning sound of something reversing that you have to be cautious of. Is it that truck? Or that one? Or that one? I mean, if there are 8 trucks nearby, why would you pinpoint that noise to the truck that is reversing behind you in your blind splot?

        Warning noises are only useful if they they aren't routine sounds. If that sound is emitted continously all around you, you do tend to filter it out.

        1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

          So... uh... pay attention to one's surroundings? Apply a little self-preservation? It's really not that hard. Too many people today are so self-absorbed and believe that eveyone else around them will look out for them, they can basically zone out and it'll be fine.

          Warning noises are only useful if they they aren't routine sounds. If that sound is emitted continously all around you, you do tend to filter it out.

          I think it's more nuanced than all routine sounds are filtered out. Associating sounds with a sense of danger makes filtering out less likely. Most people crossing the road, for instance, will still listen for an approaching vehicle even if they can't see it - say crossing between parked cars. Well I do. I and I teach my kids to. And I assume anyone who wants to live would at least react to something really loud approaching.

        2. MachDiamond Silver badge

          "Warning noises are only useful if they they aren't routine sounds. If that sound is emitted continously all around you, you do tend to filter it out."

          If you are in a lorry nest, yes, you would hear those annoying backup beeps too much. If you are walking or cycling down the street without earbuds blasting loud enough to leave only 30 minutes of battery time at a go, you might detect a car backing out of a drive where there is limited sight lines.

          I don't just randomly swerve into the lane while riding my bike so I'm not that worried about EV's making an artificial noise when they are going forward. I sort of think it a good way to weed out the idiots even at the cost of a few surviving.

      2. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: pedestrians ... seemingly completely unaware

        Is it wrong to see this as a self-limiting problem?

        I mean, if it weren't for the ensuing police investigations, court cases and trauma to the driver of crushing some inattentive moron with their massive, obvious and loud moving vehicle.

    2. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Around here (the lucky country) the "screeching" reversing warning sound is a specific requirement for vehicles that operate on construction sites.

    3. katrinab Silver badge

      In UK/Europe, they are required to have a white noise sound, because research found it was heard better than a single frequency beep.

    4. Oglethorpe

      The beeps are legacy while the crow noise is easier to spatially place than a beep.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "we can probably all agree"

    Nope, we can't. The data for forcing all cars to use the same sound is almost as weak as the data for user selectable sounds.

    There are some clear problems with silent killer cars, and with letting any idiot put any sound on any vehicle. I will go so far as to say it is a good thing that cars sound like cars, because its obvious and literally in the weeds. After that you are in the weeds as far as research goes.

    The idea that every electric vehicle in the US will make exactly the same sound falls apart the moment you start picking at the threads.

    Millions of earlier gen EV's are on the road already. So are millions of non-EV and hybrid cars that are about as quiet when they are not under power. Telling blind people that the can count on all the cars will make the same sound is a lie that will kill people. If it is a lie that will kill people, why are we accepting it as justification for this regulation change? In addition there is no indication that this scheme will be international, so you may also kill americans abroad as they look the wrong way and step in front of the unfamilar chord of a Renault or Skoda.

    In addition, if, as I stated before the vehicles are limited to tones set my the automaker and cleared as appropriate for the vehicle type, the sound can tell you about the type of vehicle, not just that there is "something" there. That means a person can react appropriately if the light and airy tone of a kids scooter is pulling up behind them, as opposed to the grumbling growl of the trash truck that is moving a dumpster. One will probably go around you, the other may be about to smash you with a trash can.

    So how about we let the manufacturers set something reasonable and let US-DOT do some actual research on this, then co-ordinate with the manufactuers so that there is an agreed solution that has been more thoroughly sanity checked.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "we can probably all agree"

      Dear AC, you've obviously put a lot of thought in to your comment.

      Probably more than is necessary.

      A single regulated sound would work.

      I'm lucky in that I can both see and hear, not very well in both cases, but that's an age thing.

      I'd welcome a simple, single solution.

      We'd all know where we were with that.

      1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: "we can probably all agree"

        "A single regulated sound would work."

        Better make it a 454 Hemi V8 with open pipes and a racing cam. Because that's the sound I'll be rolling up behind you with. And it sure would be a shame if a Prius used something different.

        Think of the confusion dealing with a different sound could cause.

        1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: "we can probably all agree"

          Road trip! I'll join you with my 6.2L LSA V8 with the exhaust valves open.

          1. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

            Re: "we can probably all agree"

            Really wanna steam engine!

            Extra points for the Ivor the Engine option....

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: "we can probably all agree"

          "Think of the confusion dealing with a different sound could cause."

          Not counting current EVs, there's a limited range of sounds from moving vehicles, whether that be whatever penis extension it was you just described or a Reliant Robin. If the variation is vastly expanded to various musical clips etc then that's a whole other ball game. :-)

      2. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: "we can probably all agree"

        "A single regulated sound would work."

        It would also cut down on court cases and everybody trying to do their own thing, getting their way for a while and then making a big fuss when the final decisions are made and regs are written.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: "we can probably all agree"

      "So how about we let the manufacturers set something reasonable "

      From the article, it's clear that the manufactures preference is to allow customers to choose their own sound because "one size doesn't fit all" and (probably marketing) think different sounds for make, model, trim level and even year of manufacture (FFS!) should be different for every possible variation. With that in mind, do you really think the manufacturers are capable of coming up with a "reasonable" solution?

  13. that one in the corner Bronze badge

    Take a cue from Cyril Kornbluth

    and make the car sound like it is reving hard and going like the clappers; feed this into the cabin interior (CK even included the roar of jets) as well as the outside speakers. Give the boy racers the feeling they're pushing the limits as they reach 25 in a 30 zone.

    While we're at at, put in random noises of clattering and bottoming out when going over a speed bump too fast: encourage pedestrians to point and laugh as well as being warned that they in the presence of The Driving Morons.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Take a cue from Cyril Kornbluth

      Thank you.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Take a cue from Cyril Kornbluth

      Don't forget the fans in the dashboard for that authentic wind-in-the-hair speed sensation :-)

  14. bolangi

    I like the idea of using African drumming loops as a warning sound / speed indicator. Faster drumming would indicate higher speeds, musical yet reminiscent of IC engine sound. So, yes, would like to be able to configure this.

    1. eldakka Silver badge

      A Maori Haka would be better, it is basically saying "I'm coming to kill you, ahhhh, ahhhh, get outa my way, ahhh, ahhh".

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        A Maori Haka would be better, it is basically saying "I'm coming to kill you, ahhhh, ahhhh, get outa my way, ahhh, ahhh".

        Yes, I can see how the high cringe factor associated with the Haka would get attention.

    2. Oglethorpe

      If only Neil Peart were still with us.

  15. Snowy Silver badge
    Joke

    User selectable sound

    They already have this, it is what ever music they have playing on the sound system?

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: User selectable sound

      "They already have this, it is what ever music they have playing on the sound system?"

      In my town you definitely know the ethnic group the driver identifies with. Hearing isn't an issue with many as they are felt a bit before they are heard.

  16. trindflo Bronze badge
    Devil

    So much for slipping quietly into the driveway

    Good to know my future car will take care of announcing to my neighbors any time I've been out late on the town. Maybe they should flash all the lights for added safety.

    1. David Black

      Re: So much for slipping quietly into the driveway

      Exactly this. I own an EV which replaced my diesel Volvo and I was genuinely looking forward to my 5am starts not waking up the entire neighborhood, but no, my EV is equipped with the pedestrian warning noise maker which is an intentionally attention grabbing sound as well as a reversing beeper. I mean, just wtf... I'm like a Tesco devlivery van.

      There's seriously no need to intentionally introduce noise pollution when we've the chance to get rid of it. All of my neighbors have commented that it wakes them up, especially in windows open nights in ways that the banging box of diesel engine rattling and clattering didn't. Even more irritating is that the car has full collision avoidance and steers and brakes itself negating the warnings and the only time that tripped was when an airpod wearing jogger decided to run across my path with their nice noise cancelling headphones on.

      Really the most disappointing thing about the EV ownership (I'm sure others may have more).

  17. Captain_Cretin

    Criminal intent

    I STILL intend to hack my Kia Soul, so it plays "I'm a Soul Man".

  18. Pangasinan Philippines

    Horse power

    Didn't electric buses somewhere in Yorkshire have the clip-clop sound of horses hooves to alert pedestrians?

    1. Ian Mason

      Re: Horse power

      No, it was the sound of panting whippets and the swish of a tweed flat cap being doffed.

  19. Christoph

    Different sounds

    I think there should be different sounds - to distinguish between a two person runabout and a massive container lorry. Match the sounds to the vehicle type.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Also...

    Cars fitted with ABS should also make a loud screeching sound when the ABS comes on to remind both the driver and the person almost run over that they should be more careful next time.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Also...

      The "tarmac" screech"? Like in almost every US TV/Movie car chase scene, even on gravel or grass?

  21. Pete B

    What about stop/start with ICE

    The same argument applies here - an ICE that's stopped doesn't make any sounds, but may be about to move off.

    1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker Silver badge

      Re: What about stop/start with ICE

      Ah, but if you lessen the brake force in antici... (say it!) ...pation, the restart/crank sound is unmistakably recognizable.

      I'm currently on a work trip with a rental that has this "auto-stop", but also allows auto-stop to be turned off. I wish a previous car I owned that had auto-stop also had had an enable/disable setting.

  22. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Welcome to the global toy store

    "a "Boombox" feature that could allow drivers to "play preset or custom sounds through the PWS [pedestrian warning system] external speaker when the vehicle is parked or in motion"

    Why on Earth "when the vehicle is parked"?

    Ever since the portable transistor radio, there has been continued development of increasingly sophisticated ways to annoy bystanders.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Welcome to the global toy store

      Why on Earth "when the vehicle is parked"?

      In an old fashioned car, the sound of an engine startup from a parked vehicle will alert pedestrians that it might be about to move. This also annoys certain bystanders.

    2. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: Why on Earth "when the vehicle is parked"?

      Came to ask the same thing about the NHTSA's requirement for stationary vechicles.

      But then I thought about it some more. I guess it's not all the time when stationary, just akin to the when the engine is running in a stationary ICE car.

      I.e. it's "on" and therefore could start moving at any moment, rather than parked up, off and definitely not going anywhere.

    3. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Welcome to the global toy store

      ...."there has been continued development of increasingly sophisticated ways to annoy bystanders."

      In neighboring counties.

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Welcome to the global toy store

      I suspect that for "parked", they mean stopped, with the foot on the brake and the gear stick in Drive position. Not parked as in not planning to move, or even "parked" is in having a smooching session with the GF. This is a US oriented article so "parked" may be used differently to other English speaking speaking.

  23. Death Boffin
    Facepalm

    ICE stopped

    Many ICE vehicles these days turn off the motor when stopped. Do the need to be fitted with a noisemaker as well?

  24. Ian Mason

    A single fixed sound?

    A single universal fixed sound is probably missing a trick. If we mandate that every EV sounds the same as every other EV how will we be able to tell if the best warning sound was selected in the first place? If there are a range of sounds in use then time will tell which are effective and which are not, just as time has done with various emergency vehicle warning sounds. There needs to be just enough commonality so that a warning sound is recognisable for what it is, but no more than that - for the time being.

  25. DeathSquid

    Noise Pollution

    Making noise at less than 30km/hr will only cause more noise pollution in residential areas. At that speed, an alert driver can always use their horn to make themselves known as necessary. Anyway, hybrids have been tooling around at low speeds on battery only for years, and there's been no problem up until now...

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