What Sound Should Electric Cars Make?

To help prevent pedestrian accidents, otherwise silent electric cars must emit a noise while they drive. What noise? It's up to carmakers. Ford has presented us with some potential options. Behold, the sweet, sweet music of the Spaceship engine.

Ford EV

One of the benefits of electric cars—besides not using any gas—is that they are basically silent, clearing up a lot of the noise pollution inherent in driving giant hulks of metal around everywhere. But there is a problem: blind people use the sound of cars as a warning to not walk into streets. The roar of traffic acts as a safety cue to others, as well: People wearing headphones, little kids, the hard of hearing, smartphone addicts, or simply those not paying attention. When cars are silent, this warning system is gone, and it's a lot easier to accidentally get mowed down. For this reason, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has mandated that all electric cars make an alert noise. What that noise is has been left up to the individual carmakers. For the new electric Ford Focus, Ford has made four potential sounds available online and are asking people to vote:

1: The Spaceship

2: The Motorboat

3: The Teleporter

4: The Fighter Jet

Are you ready for a world where cars whiz by while projecting sound effects from a Flash Gordon movie? If the government can't mandate a standard, then be prepared for every car company to make its own, and perhaps trying to brand their cars using strange sounds. Walking down the street may soon be like wandering around inside a video game.

[Image: Ford]

Morgan Clendaniel can be reached by email or on Twitter.

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18 Comments

  • Vic Raphael

    Comments to date are all perverse because they're based on common sense, a foreign concept to currently typical college and university graduates most, if not all, are degree decorated morons w/o a vaguest clue as to what common sense even is.  Just look at Ford's options here presented, for proof.  VRP

  • Marcel St Germain

    Dont reinvent the wheel !
    Use sound all are familiar with....Car engine sound !

  • Edmond X. Ramirez Sr.

    Amectran did this on their electric cars 34 years ago for the safety concerns being discussed now see amectran.com videos...the noise emitted operated at  speeds from 0 to 27 mph then discontinued; it was designed to cover low speed areas such as shopping centers, school and hospital zones; studies showed that over 27 mph even gasoline engine noises are not audible to pedestrians.

  • Evelyn Cucchiara

    I'm jumping on the no noise at all bandwagon. Tires make enough all by themselves, and giving anyone a choice on what sound their car should make is just adding more complications to life. Silence is golden.

  • Marco Beczkowski

    Are these guys stupid? I live right next to a busy road in the hope that one day all vehicles (especially buses, trucks and damn Harleys!) will be electric! Now they WANT to MAKE noise?

  • Scott Jensen

    The biggest source of sound/noise in today's cars is its TIRES.  Any decent car's engine barely makes a sound today.  Go to ANY street and listen.  What you are hearing are the tires running on pavement. Not their engines.  You have to move up to semis to hear the engine over their tires and then that's when the semi is accelerating or gearing down.  That Ford is so clueless about automobiles is very surprising.  This is a non-issue and will FAIL in the marketplace.

  • adam kruvand

    You should be able to select your 'muffler tone' (car muffler sounds) in real time from the HUD.  Some days you want "Italian sports car", others you want the quiet "luxury auto".  Then they can have "muscle car" or "indy car" for the most economical compact models.

  • ScooterCH

    Stupid idea #1.
    Car noise is pollution and we should seize the chance to stop it. How many blind people are there? Really? Everyone else can be retrained to look before walking onto a street. Tires will continue to make a lot of noise and if the world got a bit quieter we would be able to hear tires very well, leaving space to hear bicycles, which are the real health-friendly transport. I truly hope this trend for added noise will only last until all vehicles are electric. 

  • Stuart Bogue

    I love this....Whatever the number of blind people there are,give these cars a few days and they should be able to take care of the rest,don't you think? Voila,no more problem and blessed silence reigns...right ,Scoot?
    There may well be better means of alerting folks in general than contributing to more noise,such as a silent emission received by personal/street level sensors to provide alerts(vibrations,visuals etc)... but minimizing the number vs. risk/need of handicapped folks is a pretty crappy method.

  • Gianpaolo D'Amico

    This is a very debated issue since two years.

    It was the main topic of the Audio Branding Congress 2010 and thene if you want to know more about the discussions on the electric vehicles and some interesting tips you can visit the report of the congress: http://www.soundesign.info/rev...

  • Neil Clavin

    Would be interesting to choose between the sound files for cars in Gran Turismo for example. Agree with Chris - novelty ringtones seem to have disappeared from the street, mobile ringtones now all sound like old rotary phones...

  • Rob Fisher

    I would like them make a "bubble" sound, similar to "The Jetsons" Very cool.

  • Chris Ferdinandi

    If they want to appeal to "car people," the might try making electric vehicles that sound like... wait for it... cars!

    From a safety perspective, that seems to make more sense as well, since people know what the sound of car approaching means.