The dangers of ‘silent’ electric cars revealed with a solution

Posted on November 23rd, 2018 by Rob Marshall

The dangers of 'silent' electric cars revealed with a solution

Despite many questions remaining unanswered about the cradle-to-grave environmental soundness of the electric vehicle (EV), it does offer a means of cutting urban pollutant levels that result from conventional road transport. In many ways, I remain a cautious fan. With population levels in our cities predicted to swell even further, it is unsurprising that governments are incentivising EVs especially for urban use and it is clear that more of them will appear on our roads in the future.


Silence is deadly

While EVs won’t kill us with toxins, the Guide Dogs charity has revealed a hidden danger in its Safe and Sound campaign. Working with the Royal Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and the World Blind Union (WBU) to ensure that the dangers that are posed to pedestrians, by hybrids and EVs, are uncovered, Guide Dogs revealed that a 54% increase in pedestrian injuries occurred between 2012 and 2013 as a result of quiet electric, or hybrid cars. Additionally, 76% of its respondents stated that a quiet vehicle made the roads more unsafe for visually impaired walkers; 78% agreed they were less safe for older people and three quarters of those polled stated that quiet vehicles were less safe for children.


The campaign group SteerSafe agrees, describing EVs reportedly as “silent killers” and criticised the authorities for fast-tracking the technology in a “desperate bid to reduce air pollution”.


Kevin Clinton, from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) adds,

“The greatest risks, associated with EVs, are when they are travelling at low speeds, such as in urban areas with lower limits, as the noise from tyres and the road surface, and aerodynamic noise, are minimal.”


The solution

The EU is modifying Type Approval legislation to reduce EV’s risk to pedestrians, by insisting that both new EVs and hybrids be fitted with Acoustic Vehicle Alerting Systems (AVAS) from next year. Interestingly, reports also state that existing EVs will require them to be retrofitted by 2021 – although we have not seen any reports about how that will be implemented. AVAS operates at speeds below 12mph and will feature a noise different from those of combustion engines, which are not ideal for pedestrians to judge by ear how close the car in question might be.

An idea of how this system may work in the real world was revealed recently by Jaguar Land Rover, with its Austrian Built EV, the I-PACE, which was tested by Guide Dogs members. Iain Suffield, Jaguar NVH Technical Specialist reveals the new sound and explains how it was developed in this video.