(VIDEO) First Drive: Nissan LEAF — Alert Sounds are No Big Deal

· · 8 years ago

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.


· Anonymous (not verified) · 8 years ago

Huh? I can't hear anything over the wind buffeting! You need to put one of those fuzzy things on your microphone and/or use the bass roll-off, both of which will drastically reduce the wind noise.

· Christof (not verified) · 8 years ago

I have to wonder what the aggregate effect will be of various artificial noises added to EVs, hybrids, and, possibly to quieter gas cars as well. One car is, well, one car, hundreds and thousands of cars equipped with artificial noise makers is another thing altogether.

My question: Will the aggregate of these artificial noises make the urban environment quieter than it is now -- something we all ought to be aiming for (completely over-looked are the proven negative physiological and psychological effects of urban noise) , or will it be the same old, same old, or worse?

Has anyone at Nissan, at National Federation of the Blind, on Capitol Hill, really given any meaningful thought to this question?

Imagine 200 EVs with beeping back-up noises backing up at the same time in a Wal-Mart parking lot, for example...

· · 8 years ago

As I said, I'm sorry for the wind noise. It was incredibly strong wind that day and I'm clearly not a professional videographer. Although it's not ideal, it's what I've got.

Also, it's not just the wind noise that's covering up the sound, the sound really is that quiet. But I can't believe that you can't hear anything, I listen to it and I can hear the faint sounds even with the wind noise.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 8 years ago

With the wind noise & our unfamliarity of the sound, it is difficult to pick out.

I hear something like an electric motor sound, but it is difficult to know whether that is the artificial sound under those conditions.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 8 years ago

With the wind noise & our unfamliarity of the sound, it is difficult to pick out.

I hear something like an electric motor sound, but it is difficult to know whether that is the artificial sound under those conditions.

· rumpole! (not verified) · 7 years ago

I have a reservation on a Leaf, and will buy one when available. I'm fine with having the sound on automatically when the car is turned on, and having a disable switch. My question is, can you turn the sound back on without having to stop and restart the car? If I've been driving for a while, and I come into an area with lots of pedestrians, I would want to turn the switch back on without having to stop and restart.

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