This is the day we all feared would come, the day when EVs no longer make the streets quieter and let us hear the songs of birds or talk to each other at a normal volume. Lawmakers in the US, Canada, and Europe have mandated laws that make fully electric vehicles (BEVs) audible at speeds under 30 km/h (19 mph) in the former two and under 20 km/h (12 mph) in the latter.
The Hyundai Kona EV, for example, sounds like a ghost — its slightly creepy as well as hilarious. Although, I guess the people who came up with it were going for “modern.” The idea behind these laws is to make sure people hear the cars coming, especially the visually impaired. However, let me tell you — there are better solutions to this particular problem, like traffic lights and crosswalks. Here in my home country in the Netherlands on the slow suburban 30 km/h (18.6 mph) roads that are never busy and people pretty much just cross anywhere, they often don’t put asphalt but rather make roads built out of bricks (like in the image above and below). This reduces speeding and makes the tires more audible.
The only time you don’t hear an EV coming is on an asphalt parking lot at really low speeds. The best way to deal with such issues is always to adjust the infrastructure to changes in society and transportation rather than the reverse.
In today’s news, thanks to Trevor from Tesla Owners Online, who allegedly got this information from a Tesla technician, we now know what sounds Tesla will emit. These sounds were apparently part of an internal Tesla email sent to employees.
Waiting for more details.
— Tesla Owners Online (@Model3Owners) September 9, 2019
Now before we get to the sounds that Tesla’s cars will make, let’s figure out which vehicles get this, when, and where they will be using (emitting) the sounds — and whether there will be an off button. From information that is currently available in Canada and the US, the sound cannot be turned off, European models of the same variant will have an off button that resets each time you power down the car. Although, whether and how this will affect accident liability and insurance remains a question. As for Tesla, right now only Model 3s built after September 1st will be equipped with the device. Although, because it is mandated by regulations, that means the Model S and X will also be equipped with the new device at some point in the near future.
The holes for the speaker were first spotted in January by fellow YouTuber DÆrik. This means that the device can be retrofitted, but it remains unclear whether or not existing EVs will be recalled to have the device installed.
Turns out this was a long time coming, as this is part of a NHTSA mandate that was announced in 2010 but was only finalized just over a year ago in February 2019. This regulation will go into full force in September 2020, but at least half of the cars should already be equipped with it by September 2019 (it seems the Model 3, or at least some Model 3s, are getting the short end of the stick here). The sound will be emitted at speeds under 30 km/h (18.6 mph).
In Europe, the story is also a bit complicated and also part of a legal document written in 2014. All new “models” have to be equipped with this noise-emitting device starting July 2019 and all existing “models” need to have it by July 2021. So, if the Model Y was to be sold in Europe today, it would need to have this device, but the Model 3, S, or X don’t need to have it until July 2021.
To our knowledge, neither the US or EU legal document says anything about retrofitting existing vehicles or users ripping out the device out of frustration (almost like the story with side mirrors). Under the European regulation, Tesla might be able to give users a choice between different sounds emitted as long as the sound is indicative of speeds, acceleration, and deceleration, and even provide new options via software updates.
Whereas, under the NHSTA regulation, Tesla might be allowed offer users a “set” of different sounds. However, once a model is released, the company will not be able to update or alter it unless there is a defect, so let’s hope that in the US Tesla includes a bunch of sounds from the get-go.
“Might” is in bold is because it remains unclear, since the US rule is strict and there are two other longer documents describing the rules (1) (2) for which you will need a legal expert and a lot of time to figure out what’s what.
While these laws pretty much preclude the possibility of having the car sound as Knight Rider while driving, Tesla might still be able to include that as part of Sentry Mode. Please make this happen, Elon — it would be so cool. Also, while you are at it, please let strangers talk to the car while parked and let the car promote itself if the person says the word “Tesla” in its vicinity. Just make sure to disable it at Superchargers — otherwise, you will have a whole crew of charging Teslas start talking all at once and it could get awkward.
Another thing both regulations don’t keep in mind is that cars are becoming smarter. Thanks to Autopilot, a Tesla could easily turn the sound on when pedestrians or bicycles are around and off when the car is certain that there isn’t anything around — current wording of the regulations precludes this option.
Luckily, the EU regulation at least allows people to turn it off any time they want. Although, that setting will reset after you power down the car. (Update: This option was reportedly removed earlier this year.)
So, continuing on to the bright side, kids will likely have a new game to play called something along the lines of “What car do I hear?” where you need to name the brand or even model from the sound. Recently, I was in a parking garage and talking to my friend while about to get in the car when I asked him, “Wait, stop for a sec, do I hear a Hyundai Kona?” We both stopped, listened, and then looked about 100 meters away to the other side of the parking garage and indeed we saw a Hyundai Kona EV looking for a parking spot.
In any case, without further ado, here are the leaked audio files of the sounds that Tesla will make: