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Electric cars could make some really strange noises in the future − because the law says so

Every electric car sold in the EU from is now required to be loud enough to be heard by pedestrians − and some manufacturers have decided to get creative with the new law.

New regulations dictate that, from July 1, all new electric cars sold in the EU must be fitted with an Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS). AVAS are speakers, usually mounted on the exterior of a vehicle, that play sounds to alert pedestrians that a car is coming.

Cars moving at below 20kph are required to have a minimum sound level of 56dB, and this sound must reflect vehicle behaviour. For example, the pitch might rise to signal that the car is accelerating. The sound must be continuous and progressive – rather than a melody – and it must be obviously identifiable as a car.

Research published by the US Department of Transportation suggests that people are up to 40% more likely to be hit by an electric or hybrid car than one with a loud engine, so this could be a really effective move to prevent accidents with the rise of electric vehicles.

“The government wants the benefits of green transport to be felt by everyone, and understands the concerns of the visually impaired about the possible hazards posed by quiet electric vehicles,” said roads minister Michael Ellis. “This new requirement will give pedestrians added confidence when crossing the road.”

As reported by Wired, some manufacturers have taken this opportunity to play around with the limits of what a car can sound like.

Engineers at Jaguar Land Rover tested one of their more futuristic looking models with a sound that resembled a spaceship in a sci-fi film but found that when they tested the sound, rather than looking for the oncoming car, people looked up as if to spot the spaceship.

Some countries have placed restrictions on the sounds a car can make for similar reasons. In Japan, an electric vehicle is not allowed to sound like anything natural, such as rain, wind, a cow or a horse.

These rules are important, as pedestrians need to be able to distinguish what is and what is not a car, in order to stay safe. This is especially crucial for people with visual impairments who rely on what they can – or cannot – hear to know when it is safe to cross the road.

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Citroen has also been experimenting with unique sounds in its cars. The Ami One uses a male voice layered with a female voice to create a sustained tone that matches the new EU regulations.

This creates a sound similar to that of a digital backup singer or a robot humming, notes Wired, and is a much safer example of what electric vehicles could sound like in the very near future rather than simply mimicking traditional noisy engines.

It seems that manufacturers are abandoning the idea of a quiet future for electric cars to create something safer and maybe even more fun to drive.

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