June 10, 2023
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Canada mandates noisemakers for hybrids and electric cars

The artificial noise of these naturally quiet cars tells pedestrians and cyclists that they are nearby

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If you’ve been thinking about buying an electrified vehicle because you can sneak home late at night without being heard from, your plans have failed. The Canadian government has mandated that all hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs) have devices that keep noise down at low speeds, effective immediately.

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Almost every part you can buy with an electric motor already has an audio unit, but it’s now mandatory for all light electric cars sold in Canada. This includes cars, SUVs, trucks, buses and slow-moving vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of 4,536kg or less – virtually everything the average consumer buys.

The car manufacturer can decide what what type of sound the car makes – most of the ones already equipped produce a continuous sound – but according to the mandate, the volume and pitch must be adjusted so that bystanders can tell if the vehicle is accelerating or decelerating. It must also sound when canceling. Canada’s requirement is in line with similar standards set internationally, including in the United States. Overall, the volume of the artificial sound must be at least comparable to that of a gasoline-powered vehicle.

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The assignment applies to all people who are near the vehicle. Hybrids and electric cars do not make much noise at low speeds and therefore pose a risk to pedestrians, especially those with limited vision, or cyclists. Between 2013 and 2017, an estimated 19 people died and 991 were injured in collisions between hybrids and pedestrians, with three deaths and 523 injuries involving cyclists, according to the Ministry of Transport. According to a study by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), hybrids and electric vehicles were approximately 20 percent more likely to collide with a pedestrian and 50 percent more likely to collide with a bicyclist than gasoline-powered vehicles.

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Although electric cars don’t make much noise from their engines, they produce the same level of tire noise as similarly equipped gasoline-powered vehicles at higher speeds. The problem is when they move at low speeds in parking lots or turn at intersections, when pedestrians and cyclists cannot hear them approaching unless they are noisy.

If you haven’t been listening to the cars coming towards you, hybrids and electric cars for sale in Canada are already making noise because they are built to US and international standards. But just to be sure, Canada also now has a mandate on its books, and it appears to be primarily due to pressure from the visually impaired and disability advocacy groups.

Photo by Jill McIntosh

Jill McIntosh

Jil McIntosh specializes in new car reviews, automotive technology and antique cars, including two 1940s cars in his garage.

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