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New electric vehicles must generate sound

New electric vehicles in the UK are now required to generate sound to reduce the risk posed by quiet vehicles to pedestrians. However, we still have questions about how this will be enforced, and how it will keep streets safe and accessible for blind and partially sighted people.

Image: A scenic view of Westminster bridge and the Houses of Parliament on a sunny day.

Electric or hybrid vehicles can be virtually silent, especially at lower speeds, making it very difficult to hear their approach. From 1 July 2021, all new electric and hybrid vehicles registered in the UK need to have a sound generator installed to make a sound similar to a conventional engine. This type of sound generator, known as an Audible Vehicle Alert System (AVAS), has a vital role to play in keeping blind and partially sighted pedestrians safe, as more quiet vehicles appear on our roads.

The AVAS requirement is welcome; it follows years of campaigning by RNIB, Guide Dogs, the European Blind Union and the World Blind Union. But we have serious concerns about whether it goes far enough.

How will the AVAS requirement be enforced?

What measures will be taken to enforce the use of AVAS on electric and hybrid vehicles?

Can AVAS be paused?

In its 2019 announcement, the Department for Transport (DfT) said an AVAS could be “temporarily deactivated by the driver if judged necessary”. We think a pause function should be banned, because we can’t think of any reason justifying a temporary stop to this important safety feature.

In the European Union, there has been a prohibition on an AVAS pause function, but it is not clear if this prohibition entered into UK law before Brexit. We need the DfT to clarify this, and if necessary, commit to a UK prohibition on an AVAS pause function.

At what speeds should an AVAS be required to sound?

An AVAS is only required to sound when electric or hybrid vehicles travel at speeds under 12.4 mph (20 km/h), but we think they should continue to sound at higher speeds. At much higher speeds these vehicles can be heard more easily because the noise created by tires on the road becomes louder.

However, we are concerned that electric vehicles might still be too quiet when travelling at 12.4 mph (20 km/h) without the sound of an AVAS. The need for an AVAS to sound at higher speeds has already been acknowledged in the US, where they are required for speeds up to 18.6 mph (30 km/h).

What about vehicles already on the road?

The requirement for an AVAS only applies to new electric and hybrid vehicles. We think the AVAS requirement should apply to all quiet vehicles, otherwise, a large number will continue to pose a risk to pedestrians. This could be addressed by a requirement for all existing quiet vehicles to be retrofitted with an AVAS, but the DfT would need to commit to introducing this requirement.

We’re seeking answers from the DfT to all these questions, and we’ll give an update when know more.