28 June 2011 by Parkers Team

  • Chevrolet working on making EVs noisier
  • Volt will be first car to get new system
  • Developed in conjuction with the blind

Chevrolet is the latest manufacturer to begin looking at the noise electric vehicles make - or more precisely, don't make.

The American firm is teaming up with blind people to develop a system of sound alerts for the new wave of hybrid and electric vehicles that are virtually silent.

The system is to be fitted to the Volt, Chevrolet's new electric car which uses range-extending technology in the shape of a 1.4-litre petrol engine which cuts in on longer journeys and when the batteries are running out. All-electric range is quoted at 37 miles, but with the range extender operating the car will run for 379 miles.

As the sound of the tyres on the road is usually significantly louder than the electric motors powering these cars, the most you'll usually hear when they drive by is a rush of air. That's all very well for the majority of the population, but what about those who use their hearing for their sense of direction?

Stephanie Mackey, Teacher in Charge for Mobility and Independence at the Royal National College for the Blind said: "As providers of specialist mobility training we believe that the silent operation of hybrid vehicles is an issue for all pedestrians but is a particular risk for visually impaired travellers. In order to cross a road safely someone who cannot see the traffic has to use their hearing to locate the presence and proximity of oncoming cars - a silent vehicle would not be detectable.

"Additionally, visually impaired pedestrians use traffic noise to locate themselves in the environment. The sound of a busy road can tell someone without sight which direction they are facing or allow them to use the sound of the traffic flow to take a straight line of travel along a pavement. Visually impaired people would be disadvantaged in a world where silent vehicles become commonplace."

Although it would be pretty amusing to have a car that sounds like your favourite Star Wars space craft, unfortunately the noises being investigated are likely to sound distinctly car-like. There's a simple reason for this - if a guide dog wants to cross a road with its owner and hears something that sounds like an X-Wing flown by one of the Rebel Alliance in Empire Strikes Back, his first thought is unlikely to be "there's a car coming".