Switzerland adopts EU rules on electric car noise

Almost silent electric cars represent a safety hazard for the blind and partially sighted. Keystone

Electric cars on Switzerland’s roads will be required by mid-2019 to make an artificial noise as a safety measure for the blind, reports the Sunday newspaper NZZ am Sonntag. 

This content was published on November 4, 2018

Switzerland has thus adopted European Union regulations on the matter, Federal Roads Office  spokesman Thomas Rohrbach told the paper. An acoustic system is to be installed that produces engine noises through watertight external speakers. This requirement will apply also to new fuel cell and hybrid vehicles. 

Noise produced by a so-called “Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System” (AVAS) is nevertheless quieter than a combustion engine, the paper writes. 

“For us the introduction of this system is vital,” Joel Favre of the Swiss Federation for the Blind and Partially Sighted told NZZ am Sonntag. His organisation is nevertheless pushing for Switzerland to go further than the EU and require electric cars to emit a noise when they are stationary as well as when they are driving along. 

Out of the 4.5 million cars on Switzerland’s roads in 2017 only 15,000 were electric and 67,000 hybrid. However, the government is pushing for a significant increase by 2022 as part of efforts to meet climate targets.

Sample sounds

When United States lawmakers were debating similar hybrid and electric vehicle sound requirements years ago, the US National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration developed some samplesExternal link of what enhanced cars could sound like. Here are two examples that were developed in 2013 and recorded against ambient noise for comparison.

Readers' comments readers had a lot to say on Facebook about the new regulations. Angelika Maurel pointed out that the measure is already in place in Florence where over a 100 taxis are electric vehicles. 

“Approaching taxis emit a warning sound so that pedestrians do not get a fright when they suddenly appear behind or next to a person,” she said. 

Some readers felt the measure would help make Switzerland safer for children. 

“I have to constantly remind my kids that electric cars are nearly silent. I’ve stepped out between parked cars and been surprised by an electric car more than once,” said Stacy Streuli. 

Others like Thomas Schneider felt that prudence and not more regulations were needed. 

Today, the police tell kids only to use a crosswalk after an oncoming car has come to a complete standstill ("Rad steht Kind geht" in German). Just have your kids follow the same guidelines, and they'll live,” he said. Schneider also added that electric bicycles are a greater menace to pedestrians. 

Readers were also intrigued by possibilities of noise emitted by electric cars. 

“I hope people can download and configure any sound they like, using their mobile phones. Could be an interesting market,” said Roland Heller. 

Some even suggested hanging a cow bell while others proposed playing the William Tell Overture.

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