Government legislation demands an ‘Audible Vehicle Alert System’ to be fitted to new electric cars

With the UK government looking to become one of the global leaders in zero-emission transport, it has introduced new regulations to make electric vehicles safer.

Concerns have arisen that the almost silent running of electric and hybrid cars offer very little warning of their proximity. 

When travelling at low speeds, the new all-electric and hybrid vehicles often emit so little noise that they’ve earned the nickname of ‘silent vehicles’.

This makes them incredibly hard to detect by blind or partially sighted people.

The sound a traditional car makes is critically important to those who cannot see well enough to judge when to step out to cross a road, or in a shared use area.

So, from 1 July 2019, all-electric and hybrid electric vehicles must have a new audible sound system fitted.

It will provide added protection to the visually impaired when cars are travelling at less than 20km per hour (approximately 12mph).  

The AVAS device and how it’s going to help

Operating at low speeds, it can often be difficult to detect these incredibly quiet and stealthy new cars, even for the most aware of us.

These typically include setting off, reversing and moving at a reduced pace. As the technology in alternative motoring fuel systems develops, we are slowly beginning to spot the areas of operation that need attention.

These areas are going to need factoring in if we’re going to continue to offer the high-levels of road safety demanded by today’s society.

The hope is that the new AVAS technology will act and sound more like a traditional petrol engine vehicle.

By emitting the type of sounds we’re already familiar with; it should alert pedestrians and road users to these noiseless vehicles’ whereabouts.

The volume for the new systems must be set to a minimum level of 56db when stood 50m from the vehicle, with a maximum of 75db.

The sound must also be directional, distinctive and loud enough to be detectable from background cityscape noise.

The driver can deactivate the system in situations they feel warranted to do so.

Warnings to pedestrians of the vehicle’s acceleration and deceleration

So far, it’s ruled that the AVAS must emulate a car engine sound with variations for accelerating and decelerating.

However, it doesn’t have to be an exact match for the typical car engine sound.

By becoming more audible at low speeds, it’s expected to provide greater awareness to walkers, cyclists and pedestrians.

It will reveal the fact that there is a vehicle in the vicinity and also how it’s operating, just as you’d expect from a conventional petrol engine car.

Motoring regulations that move with the times

The government’s Roads Minister Michael Ellis also spoke of the new regulations.

He conveyed the additional benefits that green transport would bring and the government’s ability to move with any new information that may come to light.

Changes to improve road safety for everyone is a must.

The new regulations will make sure all EV vehicles must have an AVAS, not just the ones manufactured after July 2019.

The RNIB announce support, but ask, “Is it enough?”

The Policy Manager at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), Hugh Huddy, welcomed the new regulations issued by the Department for Transport.

He added that this was something that the institute has been campaigning about for several years.

“The very low sound levels on electric and hybrid vehicles make them a potential danger to blind and partially sighted pedestrians like me, because we need the sound of a vehicle to know it is there.”

He went on to add that the discrepancies in safety standards are still a concern, as the new regulations will take several years to complete.


What happens to pedestrian safety when drivers deactivate the system?

The institute has also voiced concerns into why the system needs a voluntary deactivation feature.

A safety feature is there for public safety, so given the new AVAS feature doesn’t cause any inflictions to society that a traditional petrol-driven vehicle does, why should it ever need to be switched off?

The European Commission is in agreement. They’re working on a draft Regulation to ban the deactivation switch, which the RNIB are hoping will be matched by our own UK Government.

Driving regulations that empower the government’s ‘Road to Zero’ strategy

This and other new legislation to support the promotion and safety of EV use is set to support the Road to Zero strategy implemented by the government in 2018.

The hope is for a complete transition to zero-emission road transport by 2050, while reducing emissions from conventional vehicles over the period.

The key points of this initiative to affect every driver in the country by its completion are:

  • Reducing emissions from the vehicles already on our roads
  • Pursuing the development of the cleanest new vehicles for manufacture
  • Reduced emissions from heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and road freight

This means the eventual outright ban on sales of petrol and diesel cars, a target set by the government for 2040.

It has been suggested that the date be brought forward to 2032, although a parliamentary committee described this plan as ‘vague and unambitious’.

With electric cars currently accounting for less than 1% of new car sales, there’s a long way to go to make the changes they’re looking for.

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