A new study by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that silent electric vehicles are 56% more likely to be involved in an accident with cyclists and 37% more likely to be involved in an accident with pedestrians, which has raised concerns over the road safety of electric vehicles. Vulnerable road users such as children and the elderly are particularly at risk of being involved in accidents with electric vehicles.
Benedikt van den Boom, Campaign Lead for the European Blind Union has voiced his concern over the threat electric vehicles pose to the safety of visually impaired pedestrians. He explained that visually impaired pedestrians use engine sounds from cars to orientate themselves and measure the proximity of vehicles when crossing roads and leaving car parks.
Because of this, the European Blind Union is encouraging manufacturers to fit electric vehicles with Acoustic Vehicle Alert Systems (AVAS). AVAS systems create an artificial sound, either through loudspeakers or vibrating parts of the car’s chassis, to alert pedestrians of their presence. It is believed that AVAS systems would be an effective way of alerting visually impaired pedestrians of the vehicle’s presence, but the number of electric cars currently using them is miniscule.
In the future, new laws will require manufacturers to fit all new electric and hybrid cars with an AVAS. However, the first of these laws won’t come into effect until next year and only applies to vehicles sold in the EU, which the UK will no longer be a part of by the time the law comes into effect. It also does not require the 1.3 million electric and hybrid vehicles already on the road to be fitted with an AVAS, meaning many vehicles will still pose a threat to vulnerable road users.
The laws will also only require AVAS systems to produce sound when vehicles are travelling less than 20km/h (approximately 12 mph) as it is believed that they will be able to hear vehicles travelling any faster than this without the aid of an AVAS. Testing has shown that this threshold should be raised to at least 30km/h (approximately 18 mph) in order to be safe.
AVAS systems will also be silent while vehicles are stationary but the engine is turned on, which poses a threat to visually impaired pedestrians, as they may not be aware of vehicles which are just about to set off.