All new electric cars sold in Europe from July will be required to make artificial engine noises similar to a conventional engine, following criticism that the vehicles’ relative silence on the road was endangering pedestrians.
Acoustic vehicle alert systems (AVAS) are now required in all new electric and hybrid vehicles, and will need to be retrofitted to all existing models by July 2021.
Once the AVAS is installed, vehicles will need to utilise it while traveling under 20 km/h, or while reversing – the two scenarios where a collision with a pedestrian is considered most likely.
Importantly, the driver can switch off the system if it is judged unnecessary – like in slow-moving traffic on a freeway.
At speeds of less than 10km/h, the noise emitted by an electric car is negligible, while the conventional vehicle is approximately double. However, the difference narrows as the electric car speeds up, as tyre noise and wind noise come into play.
Because of this lack of noise, some stakeholders say electric vehicles pose a risk to all road users, especially children, the elderly, cyclists, and those who are vision impaired.
In fact, A 2017 US study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that hybrid and electric vehicles were 37 percent more likely to cause accidents involving pedestrians, and 57 percent more likely to cause accidents involving cyclists.
UK Roads minister Michael Ellis said the new requirement would give pedestrians added confidence when crossing the road.
“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.”
As global environmental concerns grow, many EU countries have plans to phase out fossil fuel vehicles in the coming decades. Some projections predict that 2040, 55 percent of all new car sales and 33 percent of the global fleet will be electric.
In the US, a noise requirement for all newly manufactured hybrid and electric light-duty vehicles comes into effect in September 2020. Australia is yet to mandate minimum noise levels for electric vehicles.
Some manufacturers have taken the noise solution a step further – the Nissan Canto system changes its sound depending on whether the vehicle is accelerating, braking, or reversing – allowing pedestrians to build a stronger understanding of the traffic around them.
In 2013, Tesla’s Elon Musk envisioned a more sophisticated system – one that could target the position of nearby pedestrians.
“I think the sensible, ideal thing long-term is to have proximity sensors that direct a pleasant sounding noise in the direction of where somebody is walking – so therefore, it’s the least amount of noise, and it’s not annoying, and it’s only going to where it needs to go. That’s what I think is the right long-term solution.”