One well known electric vehicle (EV) benefit is that EVs don’t produce tailpipe emissions from directly burning fossil fuels — emissions that contribute to climate change and harmful air pollution. There are others, though, like creating less noise pollution — because electric motors are very quiet, especially compared to internal combustion engines and their exhaust systems.
With gas/diesel vehicles, it doesn’t help matters that some owners get modified mufflers that are louder than their stock counterparts. Driving a very loud vehicle seems to be preferable for some machismo males, but can be very irritating to everyone else.
While noise pollution might seem a trivial consideration to many, and it is compared with climate change, vehicle noise is more than a nuisance. Various research papers point to a raft of negative impacts: “The consequences of the constant urban rumble extend beyond childhood. Numerous studies have linked noise pollution to increased anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.”
A 2015 research paper of 3,300 people found that it can have mental-emotional effects as well. “Our results suggest that exposure to residential road traffic noise increases the risk of depressive symptoms,” the researchers write.
A national health interview survey of over 19,000 Germans also found a link between noise pollution and mental health issues. “After adjusting for covariates (sociodemographic factors, chronic disease, and social support), both men and women who reported high overall noise annoyance showed more than doubled odds of impaired mental health compared to those who were not annoyed. The odds of impaired mental health in the highest noise annoyance category from road traffic and neighbours were also significantly increased. These findings indicate that high noise annoyance is associated with impaired mental health and that this association can vary with the source of environmental noise.”
Data from over 14,000 people was used in a study of noise pollution and atrial fibrillation, an irregular and/or rapid heartbeat which can increase heart failure and stroke risk. The researchers concluded the following: “In summary, the current study describes a significant association between noise and the arrhythmia AF. Although hypotheses about the emotional reactions and the development of arrhythmia are reasonable, this is to our knowledge the first paper to show an association between annoyance and AF.”
Noise pollution results in higher stress, which can aggravate existing health conditions. In a study of aviation noise and potential impacts, the researchers went into much greater detail about the connection: “According to the noise reaction model, two principal pathways are relevant for the development of adverse health effects of noise . These refer to the ‘direct’ and the ‘indirect’ arousal and activation of the organism. The ‘direct’ pathway is determined by the instantaneous interaction of the acoustic nerve with different structures of the central nervous system. The ‘indirect’ pathway refers to the cognitive perception of the sound, its cortical activation and related emotional responses such as annoyance. Both, noise level and noise annoyance have been shown to be associated with cardiovascular disorders. Both reaction chains may initiate physiological stress reactions.”
Researchers in India have found that vehicle traffic is one of the main contributors to noise pollution. “The most important factors raising noise pollution in urban areas are vehicular traffic, railway and air traffic [5,6]. Vehicular traffic contributes to about 55% of the total urban noise [7-9].”
A study of Norwegian citizens with a sample size of a little over 13,000 found a link between traffic noise and insomnia. “In an adult population from Oslo, traffic noise was associated with difficulties falling asleep and waking up too early. These findings indicate that sleep quantity may be compromised for individuals living in areas highly exposed to nighttime traffic noise.”
Furthermore, a separate study of 25,000 adults found a link between noise and chronic insomnia, depression, and anxiety. “Compared to the group of participants without chronic insomnia in both surveys, the group with chronic insomnia had increased associations with anxiety disorders and depression. Those subjects who reported that they had insomnia during the initial survey had a higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder during the second phase of the study conducted 10 years later.”
A study of 3,796 adults in a Swiss cohort study found a potential connection between traffic noise and obesity. “In the long term, these effects could give rise to chronic physiological alterations, which would explain the proven association between persistent exposure to traffic-related noise and cardiovascular disease or the more recently discovered associations with diabetes and obesity. Our findings suggest that reducing traffic-related noise could also be a way of combating the obesity epidemic,” said one of the researchers, Maria Foraster.” One potential cause is that noise pollution increases stress in some people and may alter their appetites, resulting in greater food intake.
Lastly on this topic, gas & diesel truck drivers can actually be at risk for hearing damage due to their occupation.
If some of these noise-related health issues seems sort of like “crying wolf” or being “oversensitive,” it should be pointed out that there was a US federal law passed in 1972 to try to curb noise pollution. It was called the Noise Control Act.
How much quieter are electric vehicles than gas-powered ones?
Of course, EVs are relatively new, so there hasn’t been that much opportunity yet to conduct studies, but electric vehicles are notably quieter. “EVs will have the potential to reduce the traffic noise in carparks and on streets where vehicles travel with speeds under 30 km/h.”
A study of electric taxis found that because they are quieter, drivers experience less stress. A separate study noted a perceived link between mood and stress related to quieter EVs. “According to new research, 70% of motorists believe that a quieter cabin would help improve their mood and reduce stress during the time they spend in the car. ”
For gas-powered vehicles, it seems the loudest ones are often the vintage ones, or “clunkers,” and eventually, if EV replace all of them, there won’t be any “hot-rods” left on the roads. How much quieter will transportation be then?
Right now, we don’t know because we all have become accustomed to the sounds of gas-powered vehicles, and if you live in or near an urban area, that noise pollution is considerable. It won’t only be urban spaces that will be quieter. Have you ever been in a national park and heard someone very loudly revving the engine of a performance car, 4×4 pickup truck, or Harley? It’s not only these kinds of vehicles, but also the garbage trucks, delivery trucks, big rigs, street sweepers, mail trucks, early morning paper deliverers, city buses, and school buses.
Hopefully, as more EVs take over, extreme noise pollution will fade away permanently.