Call to Retrofit EVs With ‘Engine Noises’ to Save Lives

While EVs sold in Europe from this autumn will start making noise, existing vehicles will still pose a hazard to pedestrians unaware of a vehicle’s approach.

From September this year, the acoustic vehicle alerting system (AVAS) becomes law, with all new EVs having a device fitted to mimicking the noise of an internal combustion engine at speeds below 12mph. This means the noise will increase in pitch as the car’s speed increases, which should help pedestrians be alerted there is a vehicle behind them.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s World Forum for Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29), which is responsible for rules governing Vehicle Type Approvals, set down the standard for AVAS in its Regulation for Quiet Road Transport Vehicles.

However, while all new models will have the device fitted, existing electric or silent models will not need to be retrofitted, which means there will be 200,000 vehicles on the road that, legally, will not need to make a sound while maneuvering at low speeds forming a much higher risk to pedestrians. Research has found that an EV is more likely to be involved in crashes with pedestrians and cyclists, because the cars are largely silent at low speeds.

According to the Royal Institute of Blind People, an electric car is 40% more likely to be involved in an accident with a pedestrian compared to a conventionally-powered car with an internal combustion engine. Furthermore, an electric car or hybrid running on electric power cannot be heard until a single second before impact, according to research from the University of California.

At speeds higher than 12mph, noises other than an EVs power unit tend to take over externally, such as rolling tire resistance, but under that speed there is virtually no audible warning of the car’s approach. This is particularly relevant in situations like car parks where cars are moving at continuously slow speeds as they navigate parked cars, pedestrians, shopping trolleys and other paraphernalia. Pedestrians who are talking on phones or to friends, listening to music through headphones, or who are otherwise distracted are, therefore, at risk.

Now the UK’s Brigade Electronics, creators of the first European vehicle reversing alarm, is calling for retro-fitting of the alert devices to be mandated to improve pedestrian safety. Its projects manager, Tony Bowen, told TU-Automotive that it’s “likely different manufacturers would want different sounds”, in order to differentiate their vehicles from rivals, and different types of vehicle, such as vans, buses, cars, may operate in slightly different frequencies, as a conventionally-powered bus sounds different from a small hatchback, for example. However, Bowen also said that the European Union’s directive is “fairly strict” and restricts the frequencies to a clearly defined area in which they can operate, meaning it will be hard for manufacturers to make the noise different from their rivals.


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