The problem with EV “audible vehicle warning systems” that no one talks about – Streetsblog USA

The debate over how to make electric vehicles loud enough for non-drivers to hear leaves critical considerations about the differential impact of noise pollution in poor communities — and raises thorny questions about how to soothe these neighborhoods without the social and racial marginalized to harm people who live in it.

On Monday, New York author John Seabrook published a 5,000-word longread on what a “9,000-pound electric vehicle” should sound like, documenting the drive by automakers and regulators to license an “audible vehicle warning system” for notoriously quiet EVs create “reaches the people who need to hear it without upsetting those who don’t need to hear it.”

However, Seabrook’s article does not discuss the safety potential of having fewer cars in US neighborhoods Periodand it is only in the last four paragraphs of the article that one of his interviewees concedes that EV alerts only need to be set at levels “at which a normal person could hear them in a normal situation”. Douglas Moore, a senior exterior noise expert at GM, concedes that adjusting these levels to be effective in noisier communities could send automakers, regulators and drivers into a “death spiral of taking levels well past 43 to 64 would increase decibels”. currently required by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Countless marginalized US communities, however, do not live in such “normal situations” — in large part because of the differential impact of noise pollution on these vulnerable neighborhoods. And experts say that might not change even if every car on the road were electrified overnight.

A map of 2018 road noise levels via the Bureau of Transportation Statistics
A map of 2018 road noise levels via the Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Just a day before Seabrook published his column, Dr. Erica Walker wrote a similar article about what electrification of vehicles can look like Not have the greatest impact on U.S. street noise levels, which many experts believe, particularly in the poor and racially segregated neighborhoods, which have the highest concentration of high-speed streets and freeways and the greatest amounts of poor-quality sidewalks. And while her article was aimed at kids, it comes down to an uncomfortable truth that many US adults don’t quite understand: how much cacophony cars cause, even if they don’t have internal combustion engines.

“If you live in a community that has a lot of bad roads with heavy traffic, it gets noisy, period, whether there’s a lot of electric vehicles on the road or not,” said Walker, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Brown University and founder of the Community Noise Lab. “And CCommunities that live near major transportation, be it highways, railroads or airports – these are primarily poor. If your car has a pedestrian alert system, it needs to be a lot louder [in those neighborhoods] to compete with all the background noise that’s already there. On the other hand, if you’re driving in a suburb where you can hear the birds chirping, it doesn’t have to be so loud.”

dr Eric Walker. Photo via Brown University.

Walker explains that as vehicles speed up, the sound of their tires moving on the pavement (and to a lesser extent the wind rushing across the car’s body) actually drowns out the sound of the engine, especially when they’re over one drive crumbling road . For this reason, NHTSA currently only requires that electric vehicles emit artificial noise at speeds less than 18.6 miles per hour — far below the typical speed limits on many streets in the US neighborhood (although safety experts argue those limits should be higher ). It’s also about half the speed limit on many major arterial roads and a fraction of the speed limit on freeways, both of which are still routinely driven through communities of color.

But even at off-highway speeds, traffic noise can cause a range of health problems, raising stress hormones that lead to increases in blood pressure and heart rate, and over time weakening the vascular and digestive systems. These diseases only amplify when decibel levels don’t drop far enough at night to give us a peaceful night’s sleep, and it can have deadly effects: one study even found that exposure to noise shaves “more than three healthy years of life”. from the lives of Parisians before Mayor Anne Hidalgo aggressively cracked down on it.

However, Walker emphasizes that the noise level is reduced just it’s not always easy. Marginalized people living in car-dependent communities often have no choice but to drive and cannot afford electric vehicles or even newer cars to replace noisy old rattles. And even out of the traffic zone to enforce acceptable noise levels – let alone which ones species Noise is considered acceptable – can easily become fatal even if the police are not involved.

Graphics: World Atlas

“If you just say ‘quiet’ is the goal, conflict arises,” she adds. “In some communities, it’s perfectly fine to play late at night in parks or make music on the porch—that’s the culture. It can be really damaging to undermine the sonic fabric of a community.”

Instead of taking punitive action aimed at closing neighborhoods, Walker says policymakers should focus on helping marginalized communities have a greater say in how their neighborhoods sound. This involves not only measuring and lowering the decibel level in a given block, but actually asking residents what sound sources they have Have funin addition to which they consider burdensome. (She even developed an app to help with that.)

“I’m a noise researcher, but I’m actually a bit anti-quiet,” she said. “I think calm is an unrealistic ideal… I’m trying to come from a place where I’m not exactly ‘for calm’ but more ‘for peace’ — and especially peace that comes through a series of dialogues that our overall acoustics weigh expectations.”

When it comes to pedestrian warning systems for electric cars, Walker envisions a world where neighbors could one day democratically decide what sounds you want drivers’ vehicles to do as they pass their homes – with expert guidance, of course – and dynamically adjust those warnings to safely compete with local background noise. Geofencing technology could one day make this possible, preventing drivers from choosing their own nasty alerts, like Tesla’s now illegal farting and bleating boombox system.

Until then, however, Walker says one of the most effective ways to quiet a neighborhood is to simply add bike lanes and sidewalks, both of which she believes correlate with lower noise levels. But these strategies must also be implemented in close cooperation with the communities.

“We need to think about communities and the power differences that exist within them,” she added. “The tools we use to improve our soundscapes have to work for all of us.”

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