Road Safety News

GEM issues ‘silent’ electric car warning to pedestrians

Thursday 11th September 2014

GEM Motoring Assist is warning pedestrians and drivers of electric vehicles to “be wise to the risks of silence on the roads”.

GEM points to research which it says shows that electric and hybrid vehicles are 25% more likely to be involved in a collision which injures a pedestrian.

At present, electric vehicles are extremely quiet but recent European legislation means some sort of noise must be added to them in the next five years, as a warning to pedestrians.

David Williams, GEM chief executive, said: “It seems we are all too accustomed to hearing the vroom, vroom of an approaching engine. If we don’t hear anything, we tend to assume there is nothing coming because we are not good at looking properly.

“GEM is concerned that the risks are much higher for blind and partially sighted pedestrians, many of whom rely on what they can and cannot hear to determine when it’s safe to cross the road.

“Manufacturers still have nearly five years to decide what sounds they will include. During that time, we urge all pedestrians to be especially vigilant before stepping into the road, and to look carefully, just in case an electric vehicle could be coming round the corner.

“We also urge electric vehicle drivers to ensure they act as the eyes and ears of vulnerable pedestrians who won’t be able to hear them and are unlikely to be expecting to see them.

“Electric cars can certainly play their part in offering a cleaner road environment, but protecting the safety of all pedestrians must remain a priority.”

GEM has published on its website a list of safety recommendations for pedestrians and electric car drivers.


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Given the average high street how can you be expected to watch the road and hundreds of people at the same time? Many will have head phones on, or be talking on their phones and have no interest in their own personal safety, because of today's attitude that 'it is always somebody else's fault' so beloved of the compensation society we now all endure. In 2011 the DfT was thinking about scrapping the law on the mandatory fitting of bells to new bikes, did this ever come off? Even if it did not, the thinking of the worthless need for them pervades in their eyes.
Terry Hudson, Kent

Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

...but cyclists in themselves can pose a risk to pedestrians as well because of their silent approach. Audible warnings to be used only as and when required, whether it's a bell or a horn, is all that's necessary. There will still be tyre noise anyway.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (0) | Disagree (2)

There is research which states that at about the age of 12-13 most of us change from Stop, Look, Listen to Listen, if necessary Look, and if necessary Stop. Therefore hearing is the first line of defence, and as such quiet vehicles pose more of a risk to pedestrians and cyclists.
David, Suffolk

Agree (2) | Disagree (0)

I would much prefer modest vehicle noise whether real or artificial, to very frequent sounding of horns every time drivers fear that a pedestrian or cyclist might not be paying attention.
Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield

Agree (12) | Disagree (1)

I should have mentioned before... "Stop - Look - Listen - THINK!" though adults are often skilled enough to keep walking rather than having to Stop. Even at a signal controlled crossing pedestrians are directed in the Highway Code to "always check that the traffic has stopped before you start to cross".
Mark, Caerphilly

Agree (4) | Disagree (0)

My unscientific impression gained while cycling in recent times is that a proportion of pedestrians are inclined to gauge whether it is safe to step into the road without looking, and, so it would seem, on the basis of a lack of approaching vehicle noise. I have learnt to spot these, especially the ones with earphones, and give them a wide berth. But I am still aggrieved that they should exercise so little care for their own safety and expect others to compensate.

I would caution against the idea of using car horns to alert such pedestrians unless the situation truly demanded so. Horns can be very loud when experienced at close quarters. I recently witnessed such a situation in a car park: a vehicle was being driven along the throughway at very modest speed when a pedestrian walked directly into its path without noticing, being completely absorbed on the telephone. Notwithstanding the vehicle's low speed the driver still had to do an emergency stop and, probably out of sheer frustration, sounded the horn. To say the pedestrian was startled would be by some way an understimate. But on recovering composure, the pedestrian set about berating the driver (unfairly, in my view) in finest anglo-saxon terminology. Not a recipe for harmony on the roads!
Tim Philpot, Wolverhampton

Agree (9) | Disagree (0)

I've had large luxury cars most of my motoring life and can confirm that they too are fitted with horns operated from the steering wheel for the rare occasion that it might be necessary to use them (for the right reason). Rod's attitude seems to be the right one and he does seem to have had some experience of electric vehicles to call upon. Do I sense an anti-electric vehicle mentality on this thread?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (5)

Does this also mean that big luxury petrol cars (with good engine sound proofing) will have to have sound generators? The reason I ask is because if they are not accelerating the only noise you can hear (from the front) is the tyre noise?
Mark, Caerphilly

Agree (4) | Disagree (0)

Maybe GEM's warning should be directed at the driver, if a pedestrian is not afforded engine noise as a warning of your approach then it is down to you as the driver to take appropriate action. Everyone else is a 'silent' road user when you are in your car.
Chris Harrison Gloucestershire

Agree (4) | Disagree (2)

I drove a Prius for 6 years and never had a problem with pedestrians not being aware of my presence at low speed (and low noise). Maybe they didn't have a problem because I saw it as "my problem" that I was maneuvering 1.5 tons of steel in what was clearly a pedestrian realm.
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (6) | Disagree (7)

In 5 years time, speakers will be fitted to the front of vehicles connected to some form of app that allows you to choose a noise of your choice. It will be like choosing a ringtone on your phone, classy V8 roar, tractor, ye old diesel powred bus rattle, jet engine, batmobile motorbike, moped!....the list goes on.

Joking aside, the use of your horn every time you feel someone might wish to cross the road has some merit but I think there is a culture issue in this country where beeping at someone is considered agressive, anti-social and rude. From visiting other European countries I would say drivers use their horns much more than we do.....but it's perceived to be OK...not agressive or rude. This issue is not a GB problem....would interested to know what those other countries intend to do with what is the same dilema.
Tallyho 1967 Huddersfield

Agree (6) | Disagree (0)

Traffic noise is a blight of modern life and having advanced to the stage when we can eliminate this, what do they want to do? Make them noisier again!

Postscript: I've just followed the link to this subject on GEM's own website and basically they've solved the very problem they're bothered about: (To electric vehicle drivers) "Consider sounding your horn in plenty of time if you think a pedestrian hasn’t seen you and may be about to step into the road" Duh.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (11)

No I haven't Eric now that you mention it - possibly my driving style - but it's nice to know my car does have an audible warning device if needed. Most bicycles probably dont have bells Duncan but I've not heard of a proposal to make bicycles noisier to compensate.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (8)

Just did a quick poll of all the two dozen or so bicycles moored up at my favourite lunch stop. Not one bell not one mirror.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

Agree (9) | Disagree (2)

I have to assume you have never tried tooting pedestrians or cyclists in, say, a town centre? That is why people are (universally) disagreeing - it is the idea that you can drive around silently prepared to toot at anyone who hasn't noticed you.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (11) | Disagree (3)

Alarmingly, there semes to be people on this forum who don't know what the horn button on the steering wheel is for. Bicycles, which are known to be silent, have bells on them which go 'ping' when the rider wants to warn pedestrians in a similar fashion. What will they think of next.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (1) | Disagree (11)

Do the 'disagrees' think that cars don't have horns fitted, or what?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (0) | Disagree (18)

Isn't this why vehicles have always been mandatorily fitted with a horn? Drivers already have the means to alert others of their approach.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (1) | Disagree (20)