A road safety group has condemned rule makers for putting the safety of vulnerable road users at risk by fast-tracking electric vehicles to market in a desperate bid to reduce air pollution.
SteerSafe dubbed electric cars as ‘silent killers’, claiming that ‘an environmentalist’s dream can become a nightmare’ because of the dangers they pose to some people.
The campaign group’s founder, Christopher Hanson-Abbott OBE, said electric cars with no artificial sound to warn of their approach will ultimately put millions – including children, the elderly, the blind, the deaf, headphone wearers, the preoccupied and the unwary – in jeopardy.
‘Silent killers’: A road safety group has called for UK law maker’s to introduce rules for quiet hybrid and electric cars to make a sound at low speeds sooner rather than later to protect the lives of vulnerable pedestrians, including the blind
The group said an electrified vehicle’s low-speed approaches in built-up areas pose the biggest threat to unaware vulnerable road users.
Guide Dogs for the Blind reported in 2015 that these individuals are 40 per cent more likely to be run down by a car than makes barely any sound than one that’s powered by a petrol or diesel combustion engine offering an audible warning.
SteerSafe said: ‘Knowingly to supply an unsafe vehicle is to court a guilty verdict should a Quiet Vehicle Sounder not be operating in the event of a vulnerable road user collision.’
Measures are set to be put in place to make electric powered vehicles less of a threat to these individuals.
The EU will introduce new rules that will demand that all manufacturers add low-speed alerting sounders to their new electric powered vehicles from 2019.
And by 2021 every electrified car on the road will legally have to be retrofitted with devices that can be heard at low speeds.
But SteerSafe said this action would come too late, with electric cars and buses already in service today at the peril of some people.
EU will make it mandatory for ALL hybrid and electric cars to make a sound at low speeds from 2021
A report by the Guide Dogs charity found that pedestrians are 40 per cent more likely to be run over by a quiet hybrid or electric car than by one with a petrol or diesel engine.
And as the number of green vehicles grows because of Government tax breaks for eco-friendly cars, the number of injuries they cause has been rising fast, it said.
The research showed a 54 per cent increase in pedestrian injuries in accidents involving quiet cars between 2012 and 2013.
The charity – which says that guide dog owners and their animals are particularly at risk from vehicles that they cannot hear coming – called for laws to make noise generating systems compulsory on all hybrids.
Guide Dogs manager James White 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.’
Car builders and independent companies have been working on a range of artificial sound generators that would lessen the risk of accidents.
Most involve speakers fixed to the car, which work in the direction the car is moving to reduce nuisance to people who are not in the way.
Sounds promoted vary from a reproduction of the whine of an old electric motor through computerised squawks to a rumble reminiscent of a diesel or petrol combustion engine.
EU rules say such generators must be fitted to new electric and hybrid models from 2019 and retrofitted to existing quiet cars by 2021, but Guide Dogs said that before then there will be thousands more potentially dangerous green cars on the road.
According to the latest Department for Transport stats, 45,400 pure electric cars were being used on UK roads at the end of 2017.
Electric car registrations rose by 40 per cent last year and are expected to grow significantly with manufacturers developing new models in time the petrol and diesel new car sales to be banned in the UK from 2040.
Mr Hanson-Abbott – who was awarded an OBE for services to safety in transport after creating the first reversing warning alarm for large vehicles 40 years ago – called for UK ministers to set an example by becoming the first European country to introduce laws for electric cars to make a noise at low speed.
‘Silent Killers are poised in increasing numbers to invade our streets,’ he said.
Christopher Hanson-Abbott OBE, SteerSafe founder
‘Vulnerable road users, millions of them, children, the elderly, the blind, the deaf, headphone wearers, the preoccupied and the unwary – all are threatened by the stealthy slow-speed approach of soundless vehicles.
‘The EU plans to regulate for added approach-sound but not until July next year. By then countless lives will have been imperilled.
‘Public awareness of this hazard is already widespread and the UK must set an example now.
‘Anticipating this, British engineers have been working for over five years to supply the ideal added sounder using locatable white-sound, shortly to be launched.
‘It is not a moment too early,’ he concluded.
Newly manufactured hybrid and electric cars sold in the US are already required to produce a sound while traveling at low speeds in order to alert pedestrians in the surrounding area.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said the move would put a stop to the 2,400 pedestrians that are injured each year by quiet vehicles.
Under the new rule, both electric and hybrid cars are required to produce an audible noise while traveling in reverse or forward at speeds up to 19mph.
On Friday, leaked details of the government’s ‘Road to Zero’ policy revealed that any vehicle that can’t cover up to 50 miles using electric power only will be banned from sale in 2040.
That would outlaw all hybrid and plug-in hybrid models currently on sale in the UK.
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