While electric vehicles were called the harbingers of the green revolution, there is one problem in having them on the road. It was found that electric cars were deemed “too quiet” making their presence unheard by pedestrians crossing the street.
Nissan, makers of the fully electric Leaf, is installing a set of speakers to counteract this problem for pedestrians. The Leaf is almost noiseless when running and many researchers found that this can pose a problem to those walking or biking on the street.
The company is installing a speaker that emits a “low whooshing hum” which pedestrians and other people on the street can hear. This noise cannot be heard inside the car and even can make the ultra modern Leaf sound very much like a Ferrari.
Nissan UK has made the decision to include the speaker in the car to give pedestrians “a fighting chance” to hear the car approaching on the street. According to Nissan UK’s Director for Communications, "Nissan have been carrying out research and have had electric cars running for 20 years now and we know that in an urban environment there is a problem with people not hearing them approach. Drivers have also told us people keep stepping out in front of them. We investigated this and did a lot of research, which involved testing beeps and whirrs that just irritated people. What we decided on sounds like a plane taking off in the distance. “
"We've also developed the noise range to be heard by all ages, as a high-pitched squeal wouldn't be heard by older people and would probably make us quite unpopular." The main danger, according to AA’s Head of Road Safety, Andrew Howard, is that in car parks, even sound of tires cannot be heard at low speeds, making the lack of engine noise from an EV even more ominous as the curves can create blind spots for drivers. The noise would help alert passers by of the oncoming vehicle. He did note that pedestrians would need to familiarize themselves with the proposed noise to be produced by the car.
Since this is clearly an anticipated problem, the whoosh would be an introductory sound for the EV. Barnard added, "I'm sure it won't be long before people will put whatever sound they want in the speaker, so there'll be people having V8 noises and jeep noises.”