Do Electric Cars Alter Your Brain Forever? An Owner Says Yes

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Author Marc Lausier and his 2012 Nissan Leaf

Author Marc Lausier and his 2012 Nissan Leaf

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Having now driven my Nissan Leaf electric car for more than a year, I've begun to ask myself whether it's permanently altered my brain.

And I have to be honest: The answer, from my perspective, is a resounding YES.

I 'feel better' for the following reasons:

  • I spend less money on fuel and maintenance
  • The pollution I don't emit benefits the environment
  • Lower operating noise from the vehicle is comforting
  • etc, etc.

But I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there's one problem I frequently experience as a result of owning an electric car: I drive faster now than I did in my previous gas-powered car.

It's my understanding that this is a common occurrence among electric-car drivers.

It apparently started long, long ago. Even then, higher speeds were the result of the relative silence of electric cars.

I sense that my first ticket in this car is simply a forgone conclusion and probably not too far down the road, as the saying goes.

Of the five senses, sight is obviously the most important while driving--but hearing is more important than I realized.

This was quickly brought to my attention when I lost the 'audible cue' from a noisy internal combustion engine.

When you floor the accelerator of a gas-powered car, the revving sound lets you know the car will speed up quickly.

But when you floor the accelerator in an electric car, from a hearing aspect, you get...relatively nothing.  It's as though I've gone deaf and as a result I'm re-learning how to drive.

Keep in mind that learning is always easier with positive reinforcement, which I get every time I sit behind the wheel of my electric car.

On a lighter note, I'll remind you of the Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov.

He is famous for his "conditioned reflex" experiment whereby he trained dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell because he made them associate it with food.

I believe that driving a 100-horsepower electric car for a year has 'conditioned' me.

There's now no doubt that whenever I manage to get behind the wheel of a car powered by a 500-hp electric motor, I will immediately begin to salivate!

Marc Lausier is a retired pharmacist living in the coastal town of Scarborough, Maine.  He is an electric-car advocate and the owner of the first Nissan Leaf sold in his state. He first wrote for Green Car Reports about his car's carbon-dioxide footprint.


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Comments (46)
  1. I have a similar observation although not quite the same. I accelerate faster, much faster, than with any other car. The leaf just jumps away at command and you know you are not burning anything extra so it is difficult to stay calm. In fact, I love the red lights now. They give me an excuse to stop and floor the accelerator. Contrary to you, I don't drive that fast on freeway, mainly staying around 65 mph.

  2. Just curious, what is your other car?

  3. I actually think electric cars could help reduce road rage because they could help take the stress out of the average person's ownership experience. Cars can be a source of stress, with fueling, service, and noise. And I really think it weighs on our conscious when we're behind the wheel, add traffic and some people snap. But an electric car is free of fueling stations, low maintenance, and they're smooth and quiet to drive. So maybe with the stresses of car ownership greatly reduced I think electric cars could combat road rage.

  4. Big +1 from me! The calm that surounds you when you're waiting in line as the traffic slowly edges forwards is sublime. No rattle from the engine, no heat forcing you to run the AC, just peace and quiet.

  5. Driving fast is also a calmer experiance, I got the opportunity to push a Tesla Model S Performance pretty fast and it was so smooth it didn't leave me with my hands shaking. I had a lot of fun with none of the drama.

  6. I too accelerate much more. I'm even more fortunate: I don't pay directly for electricity just for each km so if I arrive home with 55% or 59% battery it makes no financial difference. I am free to indulge myself in traction control assisted getaways from any traffic light I like and embarrass the BMWs and Mercs I meet.

  7. Agreed. It's pocket rocket time with an EV. No petro burning angst with any of my jack rabbit starts. I gotta slow down...

  8. I honestly do not think that there is a huge disadvantage to "gunning it" in an EV as compared to a gas vehicle. From a strict physics point of view, it takes just as much energy to get a mass up to 60mph regardless of how fast you do it. But there are losses. Wind resistance (drag) is a big one and actually favors quicker acceleration. With a gas engine you also have the inertia you are overcoming and the lack of torque at low RPMs means most of the power is NOT being used to propel the car forward. With an EV, you really only have IR drop losses which are pretty small. I started jack-rabbit starting and haven't noticed any drop in my mi/kWh rating!

  9. My local Nissan sales rep who is leasing a LEAF actually bumped into somebody and crunched the charge port--and he blames the acceleration. It was in traffic and he figures he might have had a few extra hundred milliseconds in a gas car :-P

  10. There has to be implemented some "speeding alarm" that the driver could set, and which would emit some sound alarm to warn the driver that he was at or exceeding the limit set.

  11. It should be possible give your current gps location to know what the posted speed limit is and warn you based on that.
    It might fasle alarm if there is poor gps signal and it cant tell if you are driving on a frontage road near an interstate. Onboard telematics and recent driving history(turns, accelleration etc) might be able to fix issues like that though.

  12. There are iPhone/Android apps that do this for sure.

  13. My MKZ Hybrid's nav includes posted speed limits on certain (but not all) roads. It can be pretty helpful when you haven't seen the speed limit sign but get the feeling you're going too fast or too slow.

  14. You could, you know, look down at the speedometer :)

  15. In the Leaf and in the Zoe you have a selector to give you the option to either use cruise control or to set a maximum speed yourself (left side of the switch: ). Either will work, I use cruise control almost all the time in my Prius.

    The Garmin Zumo 660 GPS on my motorcycle knows almost all the speed limits of all the roads and is usually up to date. It will show my current speed in red if exceeded and it will constantly give me an audio warning if the speed is exceeded and if I approach a known speed check point (not allowed in a few countries).

  16. The url was too long in the text, shortened here:

  17. Marc,
    Looks like I am in for trouble, since we migrate later this month, to the Tesla Model S. But I might have saved myself those speeding tickets, since 1. I got "only" the standard power 85 kW version, and 2. As a Ph. D. Psychologist I might be able to cognitively control those lower reflexes. We are getting the new multicoat red, so the Tesla will certainly not be a "Q-ship."

  18. George,
    A TESLA...lucky you...enjoy. As a clinical pharmacist, I plied my trade at the Maine Medical Center in Portland for the better part of 30 years.
    Today I spent at a Southern Maine Community College Renewable Energy Fair talking to people much younger than myself, but content in the knowledge most of them will be drivers of electric cars in the near future.
    From the Atlantic shores of Scarborough, Maine and as a driver of an EV for over a year, be advised when you take the wheel of the S your lower reflexes are 'out the window'!

  19. George, good luck with that! I'd say you're doomed to a couple of early citations, but hey if you can afford an 85 kwh Tesla, you can afford the citations :)

  20. I have found that I have slowed down now that I have the electric car, (Leaf.)


    It is so beautiful, I don't want the driving experience to end any sooner than absolutely necessary!!

  21. Most Leaf drivers slow down on the hwy to increase the range...

  22. this is one of the reasons why I rely on cruise control despite its inability to drive as efficiently as I can. the cruise control over reacts to changes in speed where I am able to maintain a more constant power level but it requires constant attention. If I fail to pay attention, I find myself doing 67 mph when my target speed was 60 mph or less!

  23. My wife and I have both noticed the same thing. We also have noticed that animals appear to use hearing to help judge distance and speed. We have had a few near misses with squirrels and such because they waited too long to move out of the way.

  24. Michael,
    No squirrels on my grille which is amazing since they are everywhere in my neighborhood. Bye the way, do you and your wife fight over who drives the EV? Thanks for your comment!

  25. Have you thought of putting one of those whistle devices in your grille, the ones that warn deer of approaching vehicles? Maybe that would work.

  26. Deer whistles are a myth, here's some of the science:

  27. It's a mixed bag for me, personally. When I have my once a week ~80 mile roundtrip commute, I have to drive a bit like grandma . No fun in that, except knowing that with some juice still left in the tank when I get home, the car is giving me the range I'd hope to have when I first bought it. On any other day, however, it is refreshing to step on it (especially at lights or other stops) and feel my Leaf's brisk 0-30 mph acceleration.

  28. Alex,
    500-1000 mile range batteries will soon be commercial...keep the faith.
    Thanks for your comment!

  29. I disagree with the author. I drive much slower with my Volt, driving steady speed in one of the slower lanes. I make a conscious effort to drive smoothly, which started back in the first gasoline price hike in summer of 2008. In addition, I select "the back roads" as much as I can, avoiding the hustle and bustle of the freeway.

  30. Ed,
    Perhaps my EV will change my type A personality to can only hope.
    Thanks for your comment!

  31. I find the opposite, the EV is so smooth that I find no joy in gunning this car. The gas car, the only fun was gunning it and hearing the engine wail. My stress levels are way down driving the EV and its more fun to watch the gassers spend their money on gunning their cars.

  32. Lucas,
    Good advice...thanks for your comment!

  33. Hi Marc:
    Why is it that Maine folks get the environment thing way before Most? Maybe that is why your lakes are so clean and the sky looks brighter at night. We've rented many a cottage over the years and it is noticable. Keep up the good drive.

  34. Garry,
    I'm one of 4 kids in the family...the eldest and could never leave Maine.
    Thanks for your comment!

  35. If I put my iMiev in normal or B mode (not Eco), then yes, I probably drive faster. But normally I just stick to Eco and try not to be judgmental of the other vehicles racing from one red light to the other while I calmly try to keep an even pace. It just occurred to be now that years of long distance running (and cycling) may have something to do with this behavior on the road.

  36. Dan,
    I was a runner for many years, never wore a watch to time myself...perhaps I should remember those days and just slow down.
    Thanks for your comment!

  37. Getting a speeding ticket is pretty much inevitable for everyone eventually, no matter what they drive. I wonder if electric cars manufacturers could output data from the speedometer so you could connect it to an iPhone/Android app. That would give you a fully programmable audio warning that you could set for different speeds? Maybe you'd want to set an intermittent sound, continuous tone or even a specific song if once you exceed the speed you set. Just a thought. Interesting article.

  38. As said, the Leaf and Zoe (and probably most other cars), have a selector to set a maximum speed instantly or the cruise control.

  39. I love my Leaf. I don't always punch it at stop lights, but if I see a smart alec who wants to show up an EV, then I let them have it by leaving him behind when the light turns green. In talking with people about my Leaf, I sometime get the impression that they are thinking "golf carts".

  40. "but if I see a smart alec who wants to show up an EV, then I let them have it by leaving him behind when the light turns green"

    You got NO chance against most ICE with more than 300 hp. You can beat them to 30mph, but you have NO chance to 60mph or 1/4 miles...

  41. I love electric cars. But let us be real here, beside Tesla, all the current EVs available in the US are SLOW by ICE standard.

    Especially the i-Miev and the Leaf. Sorry to burst most of your Leaf's owner bubble but Leaf is SLOW for a family car. 0-60 in more than 9s is NOT exactly impressive. Sure, it got a lot of torque and it "feels" fast b/c it is quiet, but most family sedan today with V-6 will blow the doors off the Leaf.

    We need more EVs like Tesla S to show the world what a REAL EV is capable of...

  42. I am willing to bet that most EV buyers (beside all Tesla owners) haven't owned a car that does 0-60mph better than 6 sec or 13 sec in 1/4 miles...

    I said most, not all. There are exception. But most of the Leaf buyers or i-Miev buyers come from other SLOW hybrids or econ boxes... Some of them are from Minivan or SUVs...

  43. The fastest off the line wins, PERIOD...don't you know that by now!

  44. Well, sure. But "those" Leaf drivers go around telling everyone how fast their Leaf is and only get laughed at. Now, NOT only EVs are slow, their owners are "ignorant" too...

    IMHO, Leaf is a perfect example of what an EV should NOT be and Tesla S is a perfect example of what an EV should be.

    Leaf has done more to reineforce the EV sterotype than anything else. Slow, limited range, "questionable" looks, range limited by temperature and speed, questionable battery longivity...

    Telsa S has broken all those sterotypes and more...

  45. @Xiaolong: Might I suggest the old British saying, "Horses for courses"?

    There is no one right electric car for everyone. And I might also point out that at the moment, the Leaf is by far the best-selling electric car in the world--and given production capacity at Tesla and at Nissan respectively, likely to stay that way for quite a long time.

    Another possible suggestion: "To each his own."

  46. Sure, Leaf works for many buyers and people. I am even willing to pick up an used one in couple years for a cheap price (there will be a lot of choices with so many of them coming off the lease).

    But the point is that Leaf doesn't break the "EV stereotype" and it only reinenforce it.

    Take away the tax credit and Leaf's sales will drop like a rock. Take away the tax credit from Tesla S and it will still sell at the current pace.

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