Electric vehicles are almost silent to pedestrians or cyclists when travelling under 20mph. Although this was initially thought of as a step forward in terms of noise pollution, there are now concerns over the safety hazard this presents.

Quiet electric vehicles are particularly dangerous for those who are partially sighted or blind. The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RBIB) reported last year that ‘pedestrians are 40 per cent more likely to be hit by a hybrid or electric car than by one with a petrol or diesel engine in the UK’.

In order to combat this, all new electric and hybrid vehicles will have to emit a noise when travelling at lower speeds by July 2019. Owners of existing electric vehicles or hybrids will have until 2021 to have a device fitted.

Chris Hanson-Abbott, creator of the UK’s reversing alarm, and advisor to the UN group working on the industry standards for quiet road vehicles, said that electric cars will be required to emit ‘white noise’. The sound will stop when the vehicle gets to around 20mph and the sound of the tyres can be heard more distinctly.

Hanson-Abbott said that white noise “has two unique characteristics. One is that it’s very pleasant on the ear and the second is that the source direction of the sound is instantly recognisable. The moment you hear white sound you can point directly at where it’s coming from. This is an incredibly valuable quality.”

He describes it as a “huge improvement” on the sounds produced by traditionally fuelled vehicles which are ‘tonal’. The sources of tonal sounds can be difficult to locate as they bounce off hard surfaces.

The news has been welcomed by safety campaigners.

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