Could Electric Cars Be Dangerous To Pedestrians?

The U.S. Is Shifting Gears To Electric Vehicles

The auto industry has been experiencing a dramatic shift as car makers look to increase the number of autonomous cars and electric vehicles on the road. In fact, the 2018 sales of Electronic Vehicles (EV) were up 81% compared to 2017 sales.

Electric and hybrid vehicles are one of the best solutions to help counter air pollution and other environmental impacts from traditional Internal Combustion engines. At the same time, the costs for EVs and hybrid vehicles are on the decline as technology continues to advance and car manufacturers find new ways to deliver the vehicles to the public. 

EVs were first sold on the main market to consumers from 2011, and since then these vehicles have grown in popularity as more Americans become aware of environmental issues.

While adoption has grown throughout the nation, California continues to lead sales for EVs and currently accounts for about 50% of all EV sales between 2016 and 2018. 

electric car sales by use state 2018
Image Source:

The trend of American’s love for electric vehicles is expected to continue to grow, and this shift in transportation will present some obstacles to pedestrians, the support structure, and even pedestrian safety. 

Law makers will need to consider how EVs on the road will impact how people interact with vehicles on the road. As more EVs drive on public roads we need to think about whether EVs are a danger to pedestrians and what we can do to mitigate risks to the public. 

Are Electric Vehicles Dangerous To Pedestrians?

Electric and hybrid cars offer many attractive features to drivers, and one of those benefits is that they are much quieter and environmentally friendly compared to conventional gas-powered vehicles.

Like many new things, the surge of electric vehicles on the road is not without drama. The big issue that has come up recently is that electric cars are so quiet that people out walking their dog or blind people who rely on noise to help them know where cars are running, might not notice these “silent running” vehicles.

The real danger of quiet cars are noticeable vehicles are traveling at lower speeds. This is because when a car is traveling above 20 MPH, hybrid cars generate noise from tire friction on the road and aerodynamic factors.

Both of these factors make electric cars audible to pedestrians and the blind, but when traveling below 20 MPH, electric vehicles produce almost no noise. Now that we have some background on the issues, we should look how slow moving EVs and hybrid vehicles could impact the public. 

Why Does Noise Matter For Pedestrian Safety?

Between 2000 and 2008, there were 24,297 accidents involving an electric car and a pedestrian – some of them fatal. Compared with overall vehicle statistics for the same time frame, 293,113 fatal auto accidents in the United States, the number is relatively small.

Still, while these small, quiet cars are in the planning, it is possible to work toward preventing these accidents. Most of them involve pedestrians and electric vehicles traveling at less than 18 miles per hour.

A recent study found that hybrid and electric cars pose more danger to the blind since these individuals rely on sound to navigate their environment.

The fact is that EVs and hybrid vehicles produce much less noise than vehicles with an internal combustion engine. This difference may not seem like a significant issue, but when traveling at low speeds EVs are nearly silent and this poses a threat to pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists since they do not emit audible warnings to people in their surroundings. 

How To Protect Pedestrians From Quiet Vehicles

Distracted drivers and pedestrians are not the only groups that are at risk from quiet electric vehicles because blind pedestrians could also face an increased risk of injury.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has taken action to require hybrid and electric vehicles to emit a standard noise to warn pedestrians of a vehicle’s approach.
The NHTSA requires all electric cars to be outfitted with an artificial sound machine by 2020 when traveling at slower speeds.

These sound modifications must be made to vehicles that weigh under 10,000 pounds and must make the audible noise when traveling at speeds under 19 MPH. This rule is set to provide adequate warning to pedestrians in the immediate surroundings of the vehicle.

This is great news for states and cities looking to keep pedestrians safe, and as the date nears we will need to keep an eye on how the NHTSA and auto makers work together to protect pedestrians on public roads.

However, many automakers are taking this requirement one step further and creating customized sounds to differentiate their cars from the competition.

Manufactures like Audi have already started developing their own “sound signature” that would play with EU and U.S. regulations while also branding the noise their cars make.

The different tune will play when the electric vehicle is traveling at specific speeds based on national requirements. Other auto makers are creating unique sounds to their EVs and this could be a great marketing and branding opportunity for cars while also keeping pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers safe in their surrounding environment. 

Making The Future Safer For Everyone On The Road

Currently, there several battles raging around issues relating to EVs and public safety. One one side are car makers who are working hard to deliver vehicles to meet public demand.

On the other hand, local lawmakers are implementing regulations to keep their city streets safe for pedestrians and other uses like cyclists. 

One way all parties can address the underlying concern is to add a audible noise maker to each EV to alert people in the surrounding area of oncoming traffic, especially when traveling at lower speeds. 

We will need to keep an eye out for how car makers, law makers, and local leaders work together to push technology forward while also protecting the safety of all citizens on public roads!

1 Comment

  1. What happens if you can not hear at all and blind when walking or crossing the roads when there is electric cars coming forward or reversing?

Comments are closed.