Marketing quiet while adding to noise pollution

Nissan advocates for not bringing traffic noise to a yoga class, a picnic, and
camp grounds. But horn-based lock signaling creates ubiquitous traffic sounds
in urban yoga classes and creates noise pollution in parks.

A Huffington Post piece about health effects of traffic noise tells us that "EVs are bringing the quiet" and concludes that " could say we’re about to enter a golden age of silence." Above the title are the words, "PROMOTED BY NISSAN" and next to the HUFFPOST banner, "Brought to you by ELECTRIFY THE WORLD - A NISSAN INTELLIGENT MOBILITY INITIATIVE."

Welcome to the world of advertorial marketing.

It seems as if the world is beginning to recognize health effects of noise pollution and the many benefits of quiet, and automakers are no exception. A heavily marketed concept is that electric cars will singlehandedly "bring the quiet." Unfortunately, "bringing the quiet" has yet to be proven as a significant metric with EVs. And automakers who predict electric cars' ability to reduce community noise in the future could reduce community noise right now if they were genuinely invested in a quieter world.

In 2014, Nissan observed International Noise Awareness Day with a press release and a video that promoted LEAF as a promising contributor to quiet. Nissan has not marked International Noise Awareness Day since, but continues to promote its electric cars as if they play a significant role in reducing noise pollution, or as if it's a given that they will do so in the near future. But automakers' opportunistic nods to "quiet" overstate noise reduction and ignore quieter modern day internal combustion engine (ICE) cars, tire noise, added noise, backup beeping, and horn-based lock signaling.

According to current available research, highway traffic noise created by electric cars is perceived as being approximately 3 decibels lower than noise created by ICE cars. When idling in traffic, electric cars are quieter than ICE cars, but many ICE cars are now so quiet that the difference is not significant. In community slow zones, if electric cars are driven slower than 19 miles per hour, mandated added sound will be heard, so significant benefit of quieter operation at those speeds could disappear.

Automakers could substantially reduce vehicle noise pollution by phasing out horn-based lock signaling, "honk from your smartphone" and "panic alarm" technology, Nissan's "Easy-Fill Tire Alert" horn honking signals (also used by General Motors) and other horn-based signals. Toyota could greatly improve residential and natural soundscapes by phasing out its piercing Prius backup beep, a frequent source of owner misery according to thousands of Prius forum posts. Automakers could also phase out audible car alarms in favor of smarter, more sustainable silent security systems. And it's never too late to rethink the wisdom of filling the cabin with more beeping signals to compete with drivers' already overloaded attention. Only then might we say that we are "about to enter a golden age of silence."

More than 60 million vehicles in the US and Canada use a horn sound to signal that doors are locked. Automakers who aren't reducing the array of unnecessary sound signals that steal attention and interrupt sleep should not be marketing quiet products.

Some areas of environmental benefit due to growth of the EV market are clear, and others are not. But at this time, benefits to the soundscape are speculative. Why don't automakers spend more time addressing noise that they can control?

Further Reading

Will Electric Cars Make Traffic Quieter? Yes & No. (2016)

How Might People Near National Roads Be Affected by Traffic Noise as Electric Vehicles Increase in Number? A Laboratory Study of Subjective Evaluations of Environmental Noise (2016)

USA Today Gets it Wrong – The Benefits of EVs Are Real (2015)

Electric car benefits? Just myths: Column (2015)

Are vehicles driven in electric mode so quiet that they need acoustic warning signals? (2010)

2017 Nissan LEAF - Tire Pressure Monitoring System with Easy-Fill Tire Alert

Nissan Easy-Fill Tire Alert System

What your Volt is saying

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