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Environment

EU lawmakers take aim at noisy cars, and worry about the quiet ones

BRUSSELS: Engines may rev a bit quieter if EU lawmakers have their say about it. European politicians want to strengthen legislation lowering the allowed noise levels of cars and recommending mandatory artificial noise systems for electric vehicles.

The law would standardize the methods used to determine how noisy cars are in the European marketplace, which lawmakers say would result in stricter limits. But the legislation retains a special clause for powerful low-weight super cars.

Nima Nader of the think tank Centrum fur Europaische Politik says allowing vehicles like the Ferrari F550 to be louder than similarly sporty cars like the Audi A6 doesn’t make technical sense.

“In our opinion it doesn’t make any sense to let these special cars be louder than cars with a lower power to mass ratio, because the noise that is produced by the car has nothing to do with this ratio,” he told Reuters.

Analysts also say mandating the lowering of noise limits for cars over a short time-frame could drive up prices.

While officials in Brussels are keen that cars not be too loud, they are also quick to make sure they’re not too silent.

Lawmakers worry that electric cars, which have no whirring motor generating noise, are too quiet to alert pedestrians of their approach and pose a special danger to the blind.

Their solution is to recommend that electric cars be fitted with an acoustic vehicle alerting system to emit an artificial sound.

The current EU legislation recommends a continuous sound, and stipulates that melodious or animal sounds are not appropriate.

This follows a 2011 U.S. law that requires the American traffic safety administration to draw up standards on mandatory sounds for electric vehicles.

Some manufacturers like Nissan already include artificial sounds with their electric vehicles, while others like Ford are still deliberating, offering the public a chance to vote on a range of futuristic sound choices.

Not everyone was pleased with the idea of creating noise for electric cars.

Anti-noise advocacy group NoiseOFF opposes mandating artificial vehicle sounds.

“Our streets are increasingly noisier with growing traffic and what we may end up with when we add sound to electric vehicles is just additional noise that will not help the problem as noted by individuals with impaired vision,” group member Arline Bronzaft said.

The fear over electric cars as a silent menace to passers-by echoes similar fears at the beginning of the 20th century, when automobiles were portrayed in media as “slaughterers” and “devil wagons” that catapulted pedestrians through the air.

Health experts may agree with Bronzaft. The World Health Organization lists noise pollution as one of the biggest environmental problems in Europe, causing sleep disturbances, ear damage, and stress.

Medical studies have found that exposure to long-term road traffic noise was associated with a higher risk of heart attack.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 12, 2012, on page 12.

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