One of the most unexpectedly controversial topics related to electric cars right now revolves around how safe they are around the blind, elderly, and young children. They're so quiet that advocates for those groups have raised concerns about a potential increase in accidents between pedestrians and ultra-quiet vehicles. Potential customers of the vehicles shoot back that adding noises to electric cars destroys one of their great benefits.
Certainly electric cars are not alone in their quietness — even combustion cars are getting to the point where the only noises emanating from them at low speed are mostly tire noise. But, given that EVs are the new thing, they're getting the lion's share of attention on this front.
I've just finished up a round of testing the upcoming Nissan LEAF in Japan this week, and, although a big hullabaloo was made about Nissan's decision to include pedestrian alert sounds in the LEAF at launch, I can tell you it's completely misplaced dissatisfaction.
If you watch the video below, you'll quickly find that even outside the car the alert sounds are almost inaudible. And inside the car you can't even hear them. In fact, they're so quiet I wonder if they'll do their job effectively. Nissan swears that they have buy-in from advocacy groups and have done a ton of research on the topic, so it's apparently effective enough.
There is one alert sound for driving forward that makes a quiet electric intermittent whooshing noise at speeds below about 20 mph, and there is another alert sound for when the vehicle is backing up. The back up sound is more of the traditional beeping noise that seems to be globally accepted as the noise for reverse — although the sound, as implemented on the LEAF, is more pleasing (and much quieter) than the back up sound you might associate with a big rig.
In this version of the LEAF, the driver can choose to turn the alert sounds off completely with the push of a button, but that resets every time you start the car. There is legislation pending in the U.S. congress that would make the sounds a requirement and compulsory — meaning bye, bye off switch... eventually.
So check out the video for yourself and see if the sounds are reasonable to your ears. I apologize for the wind noise in the video, but you should be able to hear everything regardless. And if you don't, it's because the sounds really are that quiet.
Disclaimer: The author's travel and lodging expenses were paid for by Nissan for this trip.