Pedestrians who are elderly or young, visually impaired, deaf or use headphones while walking are at risk of being hit by electric and hybrid cars due to how quiet they are at low speeds. This is resulting in calls for them to be issued with noise generating technology that will alert pedestrians who may not otherwise notice them coming.

Although the EU is introducing rules which state that these cars must be fitted with low-speed alerting sounders, will it be too little too late with the Government’s push to get more of these environmentally friendly, but silent, vehicles on the UK’s roads?

Electric vehicles are ‘Silent Killers’

The biggest call for electric and hybrid cars to be issued with technology that creates a sound comes from road safety group SteerSafe who have branded these vehicles as ‘Silent Killers’ because vulnerable people cannot hear them approaching which puts them at risk of being hit.

This includes the elderly, the blind, children, the deaf, headphone wearers, and those who are preoccupied or unwary and unable to take in what is happening around them.

SteerSafe is headed up by founder Christopher Hanson-Abbott OBE who gained his OBE for services to safety in transport when he made the first reversing alarm for large vehicles 40 years ago. He has stated that he would like ministers to set an example to the rest of Europe by being the first country within this continent to make noise emitting technology on quiet cars compulsory.

Over in the United States, they are already ensuring that all new hybrid and electric cars make noise at low speeds to help to keep pedestrians safe.

Although the EU will be making it mandatory for car manufacturers to fit these devices to new cars from 2019, with all electric and hybrid cars already on the roads being required to have a sounder retrofitted by 2021, SteerSafe feel that this is not good enough as these ‘Silent Killers’ are already causing a risk on the roads.

British engineers have been working on creating a sounder for quiet vehicles for over five years, with most designs being speakers which are fixed to the car and work in the direction that it is travelling so that the noise doesn’t annoy those who are not in the vehicle’s path.

A variety of sounds have been tested, including the whine of an old electric motor, the rumble of a petrol or diesel engine, and computerised squawks, and the sound would be emitted when the vehicle was travelling at 19mph or slower when there is little or no noise from the wheels on the road

The rise of electric cars

Due to the Government investing hundreds of millions of pounds in trying to increase the number of environmentally friendly vehicles on the UK’s roads, and offering tax breaks to those who drive one, there was a 40% rise in registrations of these cars last year and 45,400 new cars sold on the road by the end of 2017.

It is also expected that these figures will rise due to the fact that no new petrol or diesel cars will be sold after 2040. In addition to this, leaked details of the Government’s ‘Road to Zero’ policy make it sound like any vehicle that can’t travel 50 miles on electric alone will also be banned from sale, and this includes all of the hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles that are currently on the market.

Although many people are in favour of driving a vehicle which does not damage the environment, it is vital that the issue of how they put vulnerable people at risk is taken seriously as the amount of accidents is simply rising with the number of these cars that are being driven.

Accidents caused by quiet cars

In research carried out by the charity, Guide Dogs for the Blind in 2015 they found that people are 40% more likely to be hit by a car that makes little or no sound in comparison to a petrol or diesel model and that there was a 54% increase in incidents with quiet cars between 2012 and 2013.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also back this up with their statistic that 2,400 pedestrians are injured every year by quiet cars, and that issuing sounders would put a stop to this high number of incidences.

Guide Dogs manager James White has pointed out that they are totally in favour of increasing the number of eco-friendly cars on the roads, but that more has to be done in order to make them safer.
Since electric cars are so quiet at low speeds, the only thing to suggest is as a pedestrian is to become hyper-aware at road junctions and crossings. Look in all directions when crossing and of course, make sure that you abide by the road traffic regulations and cross when the road signs are green in colour.

Are you concerned about the risks caused by quiet electric and hybrid vehicles? What noise do you think would be the most effective at alerting pedestrians about the vehicle’s presence? Let us know in the comments below.

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