EVs and Noise Pollution

A guide covering how loud electric cars are and how they can help reduce noise pollution.

Last updated: Apr 24, 2024 3 min read


When drivers look to go electric, the main benefits presented to them about electric vehicles (EVs) is that they’re cheaper to run and maintain. They’re also much better for the environment than equivalent internal combustion engine (ICE) cars.

But one thing drivers often don’t think about is the positive impact electric cars can have on noise pollution and how minimal EV road noise is.

What is noise pollution?

Noise pollution is one of the major forms of pollution that has a negative impact on health, both for people and wildlife. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared traffic noise - which includes roads, rail, and air - as the second leading cause of negative health in western Europe.

The WHO recommends that people aren’t exposed to noise exceeding 53 decibels (dB) during the day-night period caused by road traffic. Anything over ~75 dB has the potential to damage our ears.

What causes noise pollution?

There are lots of sources of noise pollution such as construction or industrial noise, sounds produced by home appliances, or large events like concerts or sports. Noise pollution is most strongly felt in dense urban areas with high populations like cities.

Traffic and vehicles are also a large source of noise pollution, with most sounds caused by vehicles breaching the WHO’s 53 dB recommendation. For example, a car can produce sounds reaching anywhere from 70 to 90 dB, whilst a bus can be as loud as 100 dB or more.

What is the impact of noise pollution?

Whilst there is little research into how noise pollution has changed over time, research by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) conducted studies in 2023 to better determine how noise impacts our health and wellbeing.

According to their research, 40% of the UK population - roughly 26.8 million people - is exposed to harmful levels of noise pollution caused by traffic.

Prolonged exposure to noises can lead to numerous health problems. The most obvious are hearing loss and tinnitus. But noise pollution can also cause migraines, anxiety and depression, and even sleep-related disorders like insomnia.

How can EVs help combat noise pollution?

In the UK and EU, there are laws in place around car noises. The legal limit for vehicles is 72 decibels, although this is due to be reduced to around 68 decibels by 2026.

However, because they are powered by an electric motor and not an engine, electric cars are significantly quieter than their ICE equivalents. The only sound they naturally produce comes from the tyres of the road, or their wind resistance.

This means EV sounds are naturally lower than car noise laws. They can have a profound impact on reducing traffic sounds and lower noise pollution, especially in larger cities. So not only are they better from an air pollution perspective, electric cars are also great at combating the negative effects of sounds on both humans and animals.

Is an EV’s lack of noise dangerous to pedestrians?

There are some safety concerns with electric cars being much quieter than what we’re currently used to.

EVs are so much quieter in fact, that they have a legal requirement to emit a sound of at least 56 decibels. This artificial engine sound simulates how an ICE car sounds, so that it increases when the car speeds up and decreases when it slows down.

The reason for the noise is that the sound helps to alert pedestrians and keep them safe. However, the sound they produce is still much lower than a standard petrol or diesel car. This means they have been designed to be safe for pedestrians whilst also preventing noise pollution.