(Repost: Inverse Innovation)

The year is 2030 — just 13 short years from now — and future you is walking down a busy city street, but the traffic is unnervingly quiet. Every car on this 2030 street is electric, after all, meaning there are no rumbles or revvings from passing vehicles. And they are all self-driving, their every motion coordinated by advanced A.I., so there’s no sudden honking as one car cuts off another. The sidewalks of the future might be as loud as ever, but the roads could be silent.

The eerie quiet of electric vehicles isn’t just an issue for tomorrow, as both the United States and European Union have recognized the danger such quiet cars could pose to the safety of visually impaired or simply unwary pedestrians. In 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration set a rule mandating electric cars be fitted with audible alert systems, with the administration saying this would prevent 2,400 injuries a year.

But René Weinandy, the head of Noise Abatement in Transport for the German Environment Agency, believes such measures could do more harm than good. As he argues in research presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Accoustical Association, the US and the EU are focusing too much on the danger of pedestrian injury and not enough on the more insidious threat of noise pollution.

“In Germany alone, an estimated 4,000 people die every year from noise-triggered heart attacks — more than are killed in traffic accidents,” Weinandy said in a statement. “So is it really a wise decision to increase the noticeability of electric vehicles in traffic by making them spew noise pollution?”

Key to Weinandy’s argument is the contention that there’s not yet scientific proof that the proposed acoustic alert systems actually succeed in reducing the danger to pedestrian. There are, however, many studies that demonstrate the health risks of urban noise pollution, linked not just to hearing loss but also to even more serious conditions like cancer and dementia.

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