From the sound of a 1950s UFO movie to the noise of a piece of cardboard stuck in a bike wheel, researchers are creating a range of sounds to stop electric cars approaching silently along streets. What would you choose?
Wherever you live – near a busy A-road or in a quiet, leafy village – I bet you’ve been annoyed by traffic noise at some point.
Whenever I stay at my parents’ house, on a cut-through to the local shops, I’m woken up frequently in the night by cars and lorries hammering past the windows.
So you might think I’d be jumping for joy at the prospect of silent vehicles filing along our streets. But, having driven a handful of brand-new electric vehicles (EV), I’m not so sure.
The sound of silence is dangerous
That’s because every time I’ve driven an EV, I’ve had to slam on the brakes at some point because a pedestrian or cyclist hasn’t noticed the car and stepped out in front of it. I really think it’s vital for anything that hurtles (ok, possibly potters, in the case of some little EVs) around at speed must make itself heard.
And, although no electric cars have been given fake sounds so far, I know it’s possible because carmakers have been enhancing the audio-note of certain vehicles for some years. The latest Golf GTi, for example, has a device in its exhaust that beefs up the sound of the engine when the car’s driven hard.
And plenty of other sporty cars sound different when you switch them into ‘sport’ mode. Generally the engineers have stiffened up the suspension, sharpened up accelerator response and added burbling and popping noises to the exhaust’s overture.
The art of noise
But with EVs being heralded as the ‘cars of the future’, should they sound different?
Researchers at Warwick University are considering this question, and trying to find the most appropriate soundtrack by driving an EV that makes a variety of artificial noises around the campus. They range from a normal car sound to something that sounds like it comes from a 1950s UFO film.
Having listened to them I can at least concede that many do sound more appealing than the ‘turbine’ noise that’s been dreamt up for the Nissan Leaf EV.
While I appreciate that this could be a chance to replace the noise pollution of traffic with something more pleasant, it has to be something that lets you know a vehicle is approaching – not a jet engine in the distance.
Maybe carmakers should give us a number of noises to choose from to suit our mood and driving conditions? I for one would probably opt for a rumbling V12 (like a 1960s muscle car) to get a wide berth from other road users – on my daily slog through the streets of London. What about you?