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Low-carbon motoring: sounds good?


Having worked for the RNIB in a past professional incarnation, I’m well aware of how important the issue of the noise made by electric and hybrid vehicles is for blind and partially sighted people.

It doesn’t take a genius to see why: with sight impaired, there’s a heavier reliance on other senses; hearing being the key one when it comes to crossing roads safely. It’s of course not just people with sight difficulties that rely on this – we all do as pedestrians, cyclists and even motorists.

It was interesting to read on Business Green then, that the US Government has decided to tackle this issue head on, with a bill to add a requirement for low carbon vehicles to emit a sound that can be heard over street noise when travelling at speeds lower than 18mph.

The video above nicely illustrates the scientific quest for the ideal electric car sound, and indeed, what ends up being selected is going to be left to the innovators – no doubt with some consultation with those who are going to need to listen out for them most. David Strickland, administrator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the new law would:

"Allow manufacturers the flexibility to design different sounds for different makes and models while still providing an opportunity for pedestrians, bicyclists and the visually impaired to detect and recognise a vehicle and make a decision about whether it is safe to cross the street"

The proposal hasn’t gone through yet, but opposition from industry isn’t expected. After all, it wouldn’t do the increased roll-out of low-carbon transport alternatives any good at all if they were seen to support what’s potentially a quiet killer. It will be curious to see if the UK Government follows suit with something similar.

From the US to the North East of England, and some positive transport news closer to home. Sunderland is set to be host of a £6million Centre for Low Carbon Vehicle Development, run by sustainable manufacturing specialists Gateshead College and taking over a building Nissan used to reside in – fairly appropriate considering the company’s Leaf is one of the mainstream EV trailblazers.

Unsurprisingly, it’s hoped the new centre will spearhead a new era of innovation in the region and beyond, with increased collaboration between business and academia. Hey, they might even be working on the next generation of synthetic sounds for the vehicles to make.

There will also be a test track and a driver training centre for those taking the wheel of a low-carbon choice – something we certainly support. So if you’re in the North East and you just can’t wait to learn how to get the most out of a plug-in car or van, or indeed you’re anywhere else, call one of our Transport Advisors on 0845 602 1425 or email

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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