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Turning up the volume on Electric Cars

With rising pollution levels and seemingly ever-increasing petrol prices, more and more people are turning to hybrid and electric powered vehicles.

Together with the cost savings and environmental benefits, the buyers of electric cars also cite that the absence of noise is another major benefit that improves the overall driving experience and helps to reduce stress behind the wheel.

Designers of electric and hybrid cars have worked hard over recent decades to reduce noise both inside and outside of their vehicles and the result today is a virtually silent means of getting from A to B.

However, the EU has recently acknowledged that this quietness poses a danger to pedestrians and has introduced a ruling that all electric and hybrid vehicles are to be fitted with ‘acoustic vehicle alerting systems’ (AVAS).

Vehicle manufacturers have been given 5 years to comply with the new rules.

Is there a need for audible indicators on electric vehicles?

As pedestrians have become reliant on the sound of petrol and diesel engines to warn of approaching vehicles, the majority of safety concerns surrounding electric and hybrid vehicles have involved the lack of audible indication that the vehicles are actually moving.

Pedestrians are increasingly distracted by gadgets such as smartphones, with many choosing to wear headphones which can drown out the waning sounds of oncoming traffic. Cyclists and children have also been identified as being at greater risk.

This problem is amplified in loud urban areas, where the sound of a hybrid or electrically powered car moving is less likely to be noticed over the ambient noise.

However, it is the visually impaired and the blind that have been identified as the most vulnerable and organisations such as Guide Dogs for the Blind have been lobbying British MPs and MEPs for the recent changes to be bought into effect.

The ruling

The rules on acoustic vehicle alerting systems (AVAS) have actually been included as part of wider EU ruling that requires conventional petrol and diesel engines to produce 25% less noise.

The rules establish that "the sound to be generated by the AVAS should be a continuous sound that provides information to the pedestrians and vulnerable road users of a vehicle in operation. The sound should be easily indicative of vehicle behaviour and should sound similar to the sound of a vehicle of the same category equipped with an internal combustion engine.” It also states a number of tests, standards and measures to be made compulsory.

A transitional period of 5 years has been given to comply with the regulation and the European Commission has said that the changes “will increase road safety and undoubtedly help avoiding road-accident injuries.”

Chris Davies, European environment spokesman said “Quiet electric cars could become a common sight on our roads in years to come but we have to ensure that this doesn't jeopardise the safety of blind and partially-sighted people.”

“The acoustic warning devices will make a sound very similar to that of cars with a regular combustion engine so that people will be able to clearly hear these vehicles, allowing them to judge how safe a road is to cross.”

“Installing sound generators will ensure that all pedestrians are able to hear these vehicles and cross the road safely. By working at an EU level we have been able to place this requirement on all car manufacturers and prevent needless accidents in future.”

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