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Electrical cars - silent but deadly?

Tuesday 26th October 2010

Concerns about the potential dangers of ‘silent’ hybrid and electrical cars have been raised by ANEC, the European consumer voice in standardisation.

In a report titled ‘Silent but dangerous: When absence of noise is a risk factor for pedestrians’, ANEC claims that although the cars are better for the environment, the lack of engine noise means they could be dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists.

While no vehicle is completely silent, electric and hybrid cars are much quieter than most. Their muted engine is seen as a positive for manufacturers, as they contribute to a quieter neighbourhood, but concerns have been raised that pedestrians and cyclists will not be able to hear them coming. Road user groups particularly at risk include the blind, children, cyclists and people with impaired hearing.

A number of solutions have been proposed including vibrating sensors for deaf people, artificial noise producers and legislation ensuring that cars have a minimum noise requirement.

Click here to read the ANEC report.

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With a poor quality road surface, of which we will see more, maybe increased tyre noise will suffice for those who cannot or will not LOOK after themselves. Having driven them I found an increased need to check my speed as they are so quiet inside.
Peter Wilson, Westminster

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I regularly stress the point of looking over their shoulders to children while training cyclists to see quiet electric vehicles, but it is not just electric vehicles that cyclists and pedestrians can easily come into conflict with. I had a very quiet petrol-engined car and people regularly walked out in front of me, especially in car parks. Parents ought to be training children from an early age to look after themselves, and not always expect it to be done for them. I do agree that electric cars do present more of a risk to some road users though.
David, Suffolk

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Derek, it is precisely because young people, and indeed some older people, don't fully appreciate the dangers that the road environment presents that cars etc have been made more pedestrian friendly. Children are taught about the dangers of the road, hundreds of road safety professionals across the country work very hard to get the message across. However as children tend to be thinking about other things - conkers, jam sandwiches etc - when it comes to road crossing time the onus has to come to the more responsible adults (who hopefully have a longer attention span) who are driving nearby to slow down and take extra care around schools, playgrounds etc. Blaming a child for acting in a childish way is not the way to reduce road casualties. Expecting adults to take responsibility is a reasonable step however and if you drive well you will never notice the 'safety gadgets' that your vehicle is burdened with.
Dave, Leeds

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Having driven a totally silent electric vehicle in the past, I can say without any doubt, that the lack of noise does cause problems for pedestrians. As an experienced driver I was able to identify those pedestrians that were about to step off the kerb before looking and gave a horn warning. Yes, this action by the driver prevented conflict situations but it is surprising how many pedestrians in a busy urban (city centre) environment fail to look first before crossing the road. Anything which helps to prevent accidents has to be fully considered and I personally think that unless the silent electric vehicles are given a 'noise' effect, then pedestrian collisions will increase until such times as the population at large realise that there are silent vehicles on the road which can kill them.
Tim Draper, Leeds

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The onus has for decades been upon the manufacturer to make vehicles more 'pedestrian friendly'. It is the motorised - electric or otherwise, even the leg powered appliance, that has born the brunt of such development and critique at being the 'dangerous one'. The number of times a cycle ride brings forth the frightened and often apologetic reaction from young mothers with push-chairs and infants in hand, are too numerous to mention. The clear and present danger that school pupils between the ages of ten and fifteen place themselves in when negotiating roads on foot or on bicycles, shows scant regard for the presence of danger. All this is a culmination of a lack of education in basic roadcraft - how to use a road. It should be obvious, but it - like so many things in life - has to be taught, and it isn't. Instead, we are burdened with so called 'safety' gadgets.
Derek, St Albans.

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I agree with David that the onus must be on the pedestrian. Back in about 1978 the girlfriend of my flatmate died after stepping out in front of an electric milkfloat. It was assumed that she did not hear it coming (even with rattling bottles?) but clearly did not LOOK.
Eric Bridgstock

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I have never heard so much drivel.
Where is the man with the red flag?
John King, Darlington

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Devils advocate. Are we currently teaching children to Stop, LOOK, Listen? Is this what should be done as a matter of course? So what do pedestrians with impaired hearing do to see if a cyclist is coming? Erm..
David, Norfolk

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