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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

The Silence Of The Automobiles

Concerns continue to be raised about risks associated with the silent motion of electric automobiles.

In a recent report, Ivor Hardhat, chairman of the International Society for the Prevention of Accidents, highlights the problem: ‘Without an auditory warning of a vehicle approaching,’ he cautions, ‘the risk of impact with pedestrians and other road users is significantly increased. Fortunately,’ he adds, ‘pilot schemes are now underway, worldwide, to explore the most appropriate artificially generated sounds for electric vehicles to emit.’

Mercedes DeLorean, motoring correspondent for Vogue Magazine, explains in the July 2011 edition why such research has become pressing: ‘Some US states and other transport authorities throughout the world will shortly require electric vehicles to be audible,’ she writes. ‘Initially, the recorded sounds of high performance sports cars were favoured,’ Ms DeLorean continues. ‘However, Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lotus, Bugatti and other supercar manufacturers have been quick to copyright the sound of their automobiles. They have then marketed these as MP3s for hugely more than the value of the recipient vehicles, so other sounds have had to be urgently sought.’

Ms DeLorean reveals that soundtracks from Hollywood movies have proven successful as alternatives: ‘The reverberating steps of an approaching T. Rex from Jurassic Park and the musical notes associated with the shark presence in Jaws have worked well,’ she confirms, ‘as have the war cries of Zulu warriors from the film of the same name.

‘Less successful,’ she admits, ‘has been the classic five tone phrase from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. When tested in the US, this caused the ten per cent of Americans who believe they have been abducted by aliens, to step directly into the path of oncoming headlights.’

Jersey Meadows, farming correspondent for Elle Magazine, records how trials in rural areas have shown that familiar sounds of danger can enhance safety: ‘The noise of a cattle stampede has proven effective in Argentina, and a sheep stampede produced similar effects in Wales,’ she writes.

Tests in Kabul and Bagdad have employed the simulated sounds of AK47 fire and IED detonations. Mustapha Barta, a representative of the Kabul Street Sellers Association, confirms in a recent BBC news interview that traders in the Afghan capital have been delighted by the outcome of the experiments: ‘When electric automobiles approach,’ he explains, ‘there’s a great increase in sales as panic-stricken passers-by dive headlong into the nearest shops.’

Voice warnings have also been piloted. This has demonstrated that the voice and words spoken must be carefully selected. ‘Speeches by Ed Miliband in the UK, and Sarah Palin in the US, have been tried unsuccessfully,’ writes Juan Vote, political editor of Nuts Magazine. ‘These repelled certain groups, hence increasing their safety. However, supporters of Mr Miliband and Ms Palin tended to rush without thought towards the source of the sound – habitually following their leader along any ill-considered road to oblivion.

‘Fortunately, he concludes, ‘utterances by Rupert Murdoch, or any employee of News International, have been shown to encourage all pedestrians to proceed with potentially life-saving suspicion, distrust and caution.’

Fret Capo, pop music editor for Gardening Today Magazine, considers in a recent edition the use of music for making electric automobiles audible. ‘Pop music was piloted in San Francisco,’ he explains, ‘although it quickly became apparent that a cacophony of uncoordinated anthems blasting from every vehicle was hard on the ears of passers-by.

‘This problem was resolved,’ he notes, ‘by satellite interconnection of onboard sound computers: A random vehicle is now selected to supply the song. Thereafter, vehicles within audible range of any location are individually designated voice, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, drums and relevant orchestral parts. This technique has even been used to relay live performances. The effect,’ he continues, ‘has been to convert the city into a 24/7 concert venue. It’s also believed that many potential pedestrian casualties have been averted due to people choosing not to cross streets in favour of remaining on one sidewalk, dancing.

‘Different genres have been tried in other locations,’ writes Mr Capo, ‘with Country and Western in Nashville, the Blues in New Orleans and Motown in Detroit. Not to be outdone, the UK city of Liverpool now resonates to the back catalogue of the Beatles. Classical music is represented by Johann Strauss in Vienna and Mozart in Salzburg.’

In conclusion, Fret Capo notes that Simon and Garfunkel’s rendition of The Sound of Silence has become a popular ironic choice for the noise of an electric vehicle, as has the Beatles’ Long and Winding Road. ‘Currently most popular, however, is a Bob Dylan song that seems rather alarming in an automotive context: This Wheel’s on Fire.’