As PetrolPrices reported on last year, in a bid for road safety to keep up with modern motoring, from the 1st of July, new electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles (collectively known as ‘alternatively fuelled vehicles’ or AFVs) must come with an Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS).

Campaigners from many groups welcomed the law after they warned AFVs were too quiet and presented a danger to other road users—guide dog owners and their animals in particular.

Quiet, please

The AVAS produces a specified level of noise that sounds like a combustion engine. It activates when the car’s reversing or when travelling below 20 kilometres (about 12.5miles) per hour.

Most generators involve speakers working in the direction the car is going—reducing the noise nuisance to people not in the way—and you’ll be able to turn off the system if you think it’s unnecessary, for example, when you’re in slow-moving motorway traffic.

Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (whose working name is Guide Dogs) have campaigned for laws to make noise generating systems compulsory on all AFVs. Guide Dogs statistics state that two million children and adults, affected by sight loss, live in the UK.

Their research found that quiet AFVs are 40% more likely to collide with pedestrians than cars with petrol or diesel engines. This could be because, in some environments, a person may not hear quiet vehicles until a few seconds before impact. Their data also showed a 54% rise in pedestrian injuries between 2012 and 2013, from accidents involving quiet cars.

 In their online poll on the safety of quiet AFVs, 76% of people agreed that quiet vehicles make the roads less safe for pedestrians with sight loss. Seventy-eight per cent said they put older people at risk, and 75% said they made roads less safe for children.

 Of the almost 35million cars on UK roads, there were around 200,000 ultra-low emission vehicles by the end of 2018 together with 15,474 registered battery electric cars—a year-on-year increase of 14%. There are around 57,000 pure electric vehicles in the UK but the National Grid has predicted as many as 9million by 2030, as manufacturers prepare for the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles in 2040.

Making the right noises

Michael Ellis MP, Minister of State for Transport, said:

‘The government wants the benefits of green transport to be felt by everyone and understands the concerns of the visually impaired about the possible hazards posed by quiet electric vehicles.

‘This new requirement will give pedestrians added confidence when crossing the road.’

Last October, we wrote how Jaguar had revealed the sound the AVAS would make in their I-PACE model. Guide Dogs charity applauded the car manufacturer ‘for being the first to launch an EV which meets standards before the new legislation even comes in.’ Last week, when the regulation came into force, a spokesperson for Guide Dogs, John Welsman, said they were ‘delighted’ that new models must come fitted with a built-in AVAS.

 

James White, former Head of Public Affairs and Campaigns for Guide Dogs, said:

‘Quiet vehicles put pedestrians at risk outside schools, in residential areas, and in our towns and cities.

‘The government is spending hundreds of millions of pounds to increase the numbers of quiet cars on the roads, and while we support the development of environmentally friendly vehicles, more needs to be done to protect pedestrian safety.’

Road sense

So what about the EVs and hybrids that already exist? Well, EU rules mean they must have AVAS retrofitted by 2021 but, as The Guide Dogs Association points out, before then, thousands of silent cars will be on the road with the potential to put other road users in danger.

They say the government subsidies that encourage drivers to switch over to more sustainable cars means that as the number of low or zero emission vehicles grows, so does the volume of injuries caused by these vehicles.

Driving on an empty road is safer and, as long as other factors don’t prevent it such as rain or dim lighting, we can travel at the speed limit. Yet where pedestrians and other vehicles exist, the road becomes a busy place and, as motorists or cyclists (because they’re also silent, but that’s a whole other debate!), we need to slow down and pay attention so we don’t cause others harm. Take care at junctions and when pulling out from a parked position.

Check in all directions and follow the Highway Code, more so when using pedestrian crossings. It’s also a good idea, when possible, to walk facing traffic, not to cross the street like a zombie, absorbed in your mobile phone, and to be careful when wearing headphones—it might be wise to not block out all sounds from your surroundings!

The other question is no one knows how many EV or hybrid cars are now technically breaking the law by not having a fake engine noise. While it seems the government has rolled out this new rule just for new cars, one hopes that all the major EV and hybrid car makers are planning a product recall to install a fake engine noise retrospectively for pedestrian safety.

Were you aware of the new regulation? Does this news alter your views on EVs? Are you concerned about the risks from silent electric and hybrid vehicles? Do you have a silent EV or hybrid? Tell us in the comments.

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