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Electric car silence can be deadly

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One of the biggest safety hazards connected to electric cars is that they don’t make enough noise, posing a threat to both pedestrians and other motorists who can’t hear them coming. As a result, Mercedes-Benz has recruited the services of sound engineer Christoph Meier to make its cars sound "more jarring."

“People expect some exterior noise from a vehicle, because we all grew up with the ‘vroom vroom’ of combustion engines,” said Meier, who oversees 250 people as head of powertrain acoustics at the German automaker.

As a result, Meier and his team has created a “sonorous purring that mimics the noise of a combustion engine by getting louder as the driver presses down on the pedal and higher as the car accelerates for Daimler’s e-Smart City cars, while giving Mercedes’s $569,600 SLS AMG Coupe Electric Drive a “huskier sound to reflect its power.” Both sounds are now standard in models sold in the U.S. and Japan. The noise, however, is optional for vehicles in Europe.

In the meantime, the European Union is considering legislation to make acoustic warning sounds mandatory, while the German auto association VDA stated that they expect to seed worldwide guidelines regarding engine noise for electric cars set sometime this year.

“If a silent electric vehicle knocks over an elderly person or a child, it’s not worth the risk,” said Neil King, an analyst with Euromonitor in London. “It happens often enough in urban areas that people are stepping into the road without looking. You can’t get around that.”

Renault SA already offers a three different tones (pure, glam and sport) on the Zoe hatchback, while Nissan Motor Co.’s Leaf, the best-selling electric car, also comes with synthetic engine noise.

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