If all the vehicles in the world were to switch to electric, would it be cool?

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If all the vehicles in the world were to switch to electric, would it be cool? – Joseph, age 10, Chatham, New Jersey


If everyone everywhere got a free electric vehicle at the same time – and required owners to travel really slow on well-maintained roads – the world would look different.

But that doesn’t mean it will be cool.

People can have different feelings about the same sound. As the founder of the Community Noise Lab at Brown University’s School of Public Health, I’m particularly interested in how we as humans decide what is sound and what is noise—what we call unwanted sound. Huh. We perceive the sounds we experience in our daily lives in a variety of ways, from quiet to loud. And they can make us feel happy, angry or many things in between.

These feelings can affect our health by giving us comfort or stress. Studies also show that prolonged exposure to noise can affect your sleep and hearing and contribute to health problems such as heart disease.

How loud are the cars?

We know that gasoline-powered cars make a lot of noise, especially on highways where they can travel at high speeds. In 1981, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that about 100 million people nationwide each year were exposed to traffic noise that was loud enough to be harmful to their health. At the time, it was about 50% of the US population.

Many factors affect how loud a car is on the road, including its design, how fast it travels and the physical condition of the road. On average, cars moving at about 30 mph on local roads will generate noise levels between 33 and 69 decibels. It’s the border between a quiet library and a loud dishwasher.

This video compares the decibel levels produced by loud, medium, and quiet dishwashers.

For cars traveling at interstate speeds, which are around 70 mph, the noise level is up to 89 decibels. It is equivalent to talking to two people.

Electric and hybrid gas/electric cars make very little noise at low speeds because they do not have internal combustion engines that produce noise and vibration. To ensure that pedestrians will hear oncoming electric and hybrid vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requires these vehicles to emit sounds in the range of 43 to 64 decibels when they are traveling at a speed of less than 18.6 mph. moving forward. Each manufacturer uses its own warning sounds.

At high speeds, there may not be much difference between a gas-powered car and an EV or hybrid. This is because as cars go faster, other factors such as tires and wind noise get faster.

Urban noise is a serious health hazard worldwide, and its main source is motor vehicles.

quiet roads for all

Infrastructure also contributes to road noise. Cracks, potholes and holes in roads can increase the sound level as cars pass through them.

Low-income communities tend to have poor quality roads and highways. So failing to fix the roads could completely eliminate any improvements to the community’s soundscape from EVs.

Another way to reduce traffic noise would be to build more bike lanes and paths in less wealthy communities, which often lack them, and encourage people to switch to this cheaper, healthier, cleaner and quieter mode of transportation. is when they can.

Electric vehicles are still out of reach for many people as most models cost more than gas-powered cars. So really, the benefits of switching to electric vehicles – such as lower fuel costs, cleaner air and somewhat quieter roads – are now going primarily to people who live in wealthy communities and use EVs. can bear the expenses.

That unequal distribution of benefits is what the EPA calls an environmental injustice: a situation in which not everyone has equal protection from environmental and health hazards. In order to share those benefits more equitably, electric vehicles will have to become as affordable as the gas-powered versions.

Many people think of noise as a nuisance that is less urgent than others, putting more stress on environmental issues such as air and water pollution. As a result, governments fail to plan for noise, measure it, reduce it, or regulate it in any meaningful way.

In fact, noise is a significant environmental stressor that negatively affects the health and well-being of everyone, especially those who are most vulnerable. In the Community Noise Lab, we aim to shed light on the public health impacts of noise, argue for a more holistic measurement of noise, and combine noise with other environmental pollutants such as water and air pollution, while working with vulnerable communities across the United States. is to study.


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