Electric Cars: Silent and Deadly?

One of the common and almost frantic concerns I hear about electric cars is that they're so darned quiet. It's hard to argue with. One of the downsides of being twice as efficient at turning energy into motion is that you don't get a lot of extraneous noise. I'd like a address this by taking a slightly different approach. Let's talk boats.

As I write this, I'm sitting on the front deck of the summer camp, facing the lake. It's sunrise. The two roosters up the lane just finished their two hour dispute over who's the biggest, baddest rooster out there. This is a good place to study sounds. It's quiet here. Back at home, we've learned to tune out the train that runs a quarter mile from our house. I sometimes here a train here, but it's not quite the same. The tracks are over 5 km away. As I sit here, I don't so much as enjoy the silence as enjoy all the things I can hear. Birds dominate: crows, gulls, the crawwk of a heron, the quack of the ducks, the dull thunking of a woodpecker looking for breakfast. There's also the high pitched chirping that is either insects or tree frogs. I've never quite figured out which is which. Even the fish are making themselves heard. Something big is jumping is the bay, thought it's possible it's a mink or a muskrat.

And then comes that damn droning. Drowning almost everything else out, this incessant, never ending, never changing RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR! Somebody thinks 6am is a good time to test out his speed boat. He's circling the island out there. I can hear him before I can see him round the point at the islands south end. As the crow flies it's three miles away. The nearest point of the island is just about a mile away, and by the time he reaches that point the boat is just about the only thing I can hear. Of course, if I were on the shores of Manhattan, I probably wouldn't even notice it. It wouldn't be because the boat was any quieter, it would be because it was competing for 10's of thousands of other internal combustion engines with the same distance to my ears. 

I think in the future, our grandchildren won't find the relative silence of an electric car so strange and won't be quite so panicked by them. If grandpa ever tells them about the concerns of this age, they'll probably just role their eyes and think "that's because your so deaf, old man."

And they'd be right. You can absolutely hear an electric car. The only reason you have trouble hearing them now is because their surrounded by thousands of cars powered by creating several explosions every second and doing their best to contain and harness them, and generally failing by a factor of 2 to 1.. Around here, I can hear the wind  and road noise of a car at least two miles away. If you live in a city environment, think about how many moving cars you have within a 2 mile radius of you right now. At least some noise of from each of those cars is adding up to make the constant background noise around you. It's not that electric cars are too quiet, it's that the rest of the cars are too loud. Adding sound (as they're requiring in the EU)  to "make them safer," is actually moving in the wrong direction. 

You know what else isn't safe? Small cars. In a collision between a small car and a big car the big car generally wins. You know what you make small cars safer? Duh. More mass. Hey EU! How about a law that requires every new car be at least as massive at the average of the cars currently on the road? I'd love to see that experiment. Eventually surplus tanks will be the only thing street legal. 

Or maybe you can just install constantly running sirens on every electric car so that they're "loud enough."