Electric Cars is ‘Silence Golden’ or a danger?

The phrase ‘Silence is golden’ originates not from a Four Seasons hit of the early sixties, but from around 500CE in its full form of “Speech is silver, silence is golden”. OK history lesson over. With the increasing popularity of electric vehicles many have raised concerns regarding how quiet they are. And thereby does this pose a risk?   

Neil Diamond wrote and performed his classic song “It’s a beautiful noise”, and many agree that the sound of a well-tuned engine matches that description. The burble of a V8, a Ferrari V12 at speed, the earth shaking thunder and aural assault of a top fuel dragster hurtling towards the horizon, all fit the bill. 

In road cars the sound is one of the indefinable factors that turn a collection of assemblies into a car with a soul, something that arouses passion when working perfectly and forgiveness when misbehaving. 

But supposing you could choose any sound for your car, what would it be. And I do mean any sound. Would it be an engine sound or would you go for something more esoteric? A 747 jet engine perhaps, the clip-clop of a horse, bird song, the choices are almost infinite. Stupid suggestions? Maybe not. 

Over the past few months I’ve driven a variety of pure electric cars and all are spookily silent. The designers have paid special attention to getting the aerodynamics as best they can for maximum energy efficiency. They’ve done a very good job; the lack of wind noise at 70mph is astonishing. These are undoubtedly a high technology vehicles that drive like regular fossil fuelled small cars. They are comfortable, well equipped, seat four adults and look very smart inside and out. Some of feature advanced technology such as LED headlights that are usually only found on luxury high spec high priced cars such as the Mercedes S Class. Many can communicate via a smart phone app, a neat feature and one to possibly brag about is the ability to pre-warm or pre-cool before you get in it to drive off. Choose the optional high end Hi FI such as a BOSE system and you may not want to get out at your journeys end. With a ranges of over 200 miles, a relatively quick recharge and a spacious boot they provide a practical family city/urban run abouts.  

A fairly discrete speaker

As it’s an all-electric vehicle the motor drives the wheels directly. With no gearbox the transmissions is seamless and therefore automatic. With an electric motor proving propulsion and a truly flat torque curve they pull away effortlessly, many having a 0-60 time of circa 7 seconds. For a standard small family hatch back that’s quick, although top speeds are around 90 though. But perfectly OK for motorway driving.   

It’s this silence bit though that has me wondering. Forget about ‘in space no one can hear you scream’, drive one of these through a city street almost anywhere and no one will hear you either. Even if you’re about to run them over. Not pedestrians, cyclists, joggers, et al. Add in factors such as iPods, mobile phones and general city back ground noise you could become invisible. This isn’t unique to any particular brand it’s true for all of the modern hybrid and city electric cars. This I think could become a problem, hence the option for selecting a sound. All these cars have a form of MP3 player/AppleCarPlay/AndroidAuto connectivity and that means a wide variety of stored sounds. Connected to an external speaker you’d have the option to warn other roads users and pedestrians of your approach, so what would you choose. Maybe you have different sounds for different Countries, at the risk of reinforcing stereotypes may I provocatively suggest; the Ride of the Valkyries for Germany, a Dixie horn for the Southern USA, a discrete Butlers cough (think Alfred in Batman) for genteel Harrogate, gentle humming for bohemian Brighton, the choices are only limited to your imagination and what you can download from the internet.

For many the book ‘Silent Spring’ by Rachel Carson in 1962 kicked off the whole environmental awareness movement and its impact has resulted in the high tech cars we have today. I just trust that the ‘silent’ part won’t be detrimental. 

Think about it.

A not so discrete speaker

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