Back in May, PetrolPrices told you the European Union had put in place legislation that meant, from next year, all new electric cars must come with noise generators, which emit sounds when the car is travelling at low speeds.
Now, nine months before the new law takes effect, Jaguar has revealed the sound their I-PACE model will make—and the noise may surprise you. One thing is for certain, not everybody will like it.
Protecting the vulnerable
When electric vehicles (EVs) were first introduced, one of their selling points was that they were silent. Living in an ever noisy world, people welcomed fewer combustion engines not only polluting our air and planet but also our ears.
What EV designers didn’t expect was any downside of vehicles that make little to no sound, but the problem is that people can’t hear them coming—an even bigger issue for vulnerable people such as those with sight impairment.
People with impaired sight make up two million children and adults in the UK—no small number—and, while organisations such as the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association are in favour of environmentally friendly vehicles, they also feel further measures are necessary to protect pedestrians.
Research carried out by the charity, Guide Dogs found:
Pedestrians are 40% more liable to get run over by a quiet hybrid or electric car than by petrol or diesel cars.
Between 2012 and 2013 there has been a 54% rise in pedestrian injuries in accidents involving quiet cars.
In some environments, a person may only hear a quiet vehicle just a few seconds before impact.
76% of people polled said quiet vehicles make the roads less safe for pedestrians with sight loss.
78% said these cars make roads less safe for older people and 75% said quiet vehicles make roads less safe for children.
From July 2019, manufacturers must fit sound generators to new electric and hybrid models so that the vehicles make a noise when they are travelling at low speeds. All existing quiet electric and hybrid vehicles must be retrofitted with this technology by 2021.
Yet the Guide Dogs charity says before that happens, there will be thousands more silent, electric and hybrid cars added to the current 45,000 plus electric vehicles already on Britain’s roads. This, they say, puts huge numbers of vulnerable road users at risk.
Has Jaguar got it right?
Nine months before the new law takes effect, Jaguar has released the sound their Audible Vehicle Alert System (AVAS) will make in their I-PACE model—the manufacturer’s first electric vehicle.
It took their engineers four years to produce a sound that is audible yet discreet and one the driver can‘t hear from inside the car. Jaguar first wanted to use a sci-fi spacecraft sound, but when tested, pedestrians would look up at the sky, not towards the approaching vehicle.
The finished sound is audible at speeds up to 12mph and comes from a speaker behind the front grille. The noise is audible from any direction and increases in pitch and volume as the car accelerates. When the car reverses, an additional tone registers the shift in direction.
AVAS isn’t necessary when vehicles travel at higher speeds when enough wind and tyre noise enables pedestrians to detect the car coming, so the car only activates the warning sound at slower speeds and isn’t, it may please you to know, constant.
Click the video below to listen to the AVAS in the new Jaguar I-PACE.
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Jaguar’s Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) technical specialist, Iain Suffield said:
“We developed the Audible Vehicle Alert System for the I-PACE to ensure the safety of all road users. Our potentially life-saving technology cannot be switched off and as the leading charity for people with sight loss, we are pleased to have the support of Guide Dogs to ensure real people are at the heart of our product testing.
“The absence of traditional engine noise from electric vehicles creates a problem for vulnerable pedestrians, such as the blind or visually impaired. This is especially true at low speeds in town centres and car parks.”
Libby Clegg, Paralympian, who twice has almost collided with quiet vehicles, said:
“As a guide dog owner, I rely on being able to hear cars to judge when it’s safe to cross the road. It’s terrifying to cross when you’re unable to hear quiet hybrid and electric vehicles. Ensuring all quiet vehicles have sound generating systems installed and switched on would ensure that millions of people, like me, who are living with sight loss, would be protected from the growing safety hazard.”
Both hybrid and EV vehicles already exist with warning sounds, which either the driver operates or ones that activate at low speeds. The sounds produced range from artificial beeps and chimes to those that mimic engine sounds or tyres moving over gravel.
Many anti-noise and electric car advocates have fought against vehicles having artificial noise generators as a signal for pedestrians, as they claim these will just further add to noise pollution.
René Weinandy, Head of Noise Abatement in Transport for the German Environment Agency, argued that laws to fit electric vehicles with AVAS were being implemented without adequate scientific proof of their effectiveness or enough consideration of the negative side effects. Weinandy says manufacturers haven’t explored less harmful alternatives and that better options must be available.
Then there are those who say many luxury cars with internal combustion engines (ICE) are already quieter than some hybrids. If so, maybe the safety of pedestrians isn’t a problem with EVs, but with quiet cars?
What’s your opinion on the sound of Jaguar’s I-PACE? What sound do you think is best for EVs and hybrids? Do you support the use of noise-generators in these cars? Tell us in the comments.