The silence of the cars


Having spent about three decades trying to make cars quieter, manufacturers are now turning to recording studios in a bid to bring back the noise to the electric and hybrid breed of vehicles.

Research done in the USA established that hybrids and electric cars cruising at a low speed are 37 percent more likely to hit pedestrians and 66 percent more likely to hit cyclists than normal petrol machines. This is not because silent cars have a greater penchant for hitting people. Simply, pedestrians and cyclists do not hear them and are thus prone to suddenly materialise in front of them.

That is why legislators in Japan, USA and Europe are creating rules that stipulate the minimum noise any car on the road must emit.

We can expect something similar to happen in South Africa once electric and hybrid cars start appearing on the roads in greater numbers. After all, a spate of accidents would probably dampen the public acceptance of these, environmentally friendlier vehicles.

Some automakers are going to great lengths to have professional musicians create synthesised car sounds at recording studios. When asked why not simply make cars sound like…cars, they say that the sounds produced by the internal combustion engine are very rich and complex. If you try to do it artificially, you need more hardware in place, and the whole exercise becomes more expensive.

One day, drivers may be able to download the noises of their choice, for example the noise produced by a spacecraft, or by hundreds of galloping horses. In the meantime, listen to some electric car sounds in these YouTube videos: