EU Rules Hybrid and Electric Cars Must Make Noise

Without the rumble of internal combustion coming from under the hood, hybrid and electric cars are extremely quiet — especially when they’re travelling at low speeds. While this blessed silence might be a boon for those who live along busy streets, it does have an unintended effect: pedestrians — especially those who are sight or hearing impaired — as well as cyclists have a much harder time telling when one’s nearby. As you can imagine, this presents some safety concerns.

Earlier this month, the European Parliament approved legislation that will require electric and hybrid vehicles to emit a noise that makes them easier for cyclists and pedestrians to identify. By 2019, all new hybrids and electrics sold in the EU must be outfitted with a noise generating device that the driver can’t disable, in order to mimic the noise of a combustion-driven vehicle when driving at low speeds.

Organizations representing the visually impaired, including the UK’s Guide Dogs for the Blind, have applauded the decision. Many have been campaigning for noisier electric vehicles for quite some time, citing safety concerns. While many hybrid and electric manufacturers include optional noise-generating features, these groups want to ensure they can’t be turned off by the driver — something they say defeats the purpose, which is ensuring the visually impaired are kept safe.

Others, however, may be unhappy with the mandate. In the past, efforts to impose mandatory sound-generating devices in electric and hybrid vehicles have been met with opposition from both pro-electric vehicle and anti-noise pollution groups. In 2010, when it was announced the Nissan Leaf would come with the option of a sound generating device (which could be disabled by the driver at will), people like anti-noise activist Richard Tur weren’t happy.

“The advantage of hybrid and electric vehicles is that they’re quiet. There’s a lot of scaremongering in the media portraying these cars as some kind of shark in the water, but I don’t see people getting run over left and right by them,” he told the New York Times.

What do you think? Should electric vehicles be required to make noise for the safety of pedestrians, or is a reduction in noise pollution more important?