Futuristic electric car

The Sounds of Silence

I generally don’t like to use this column as a space for tooting my own horn but one of the things this magazine has done fairly well during the last decade has been to increase the presence of people with disabilities in these pages. We’ve covered epilepsy, autism, ADHD and especially mental health and each one has a unique relationship with motive power.

Lately another group has been making the automotive pages: blind folks. That’s because of a proposed new Transport Canada regulation that would oblige all new electric and hybrid vehicles to have sound activators that would start when travelling at low speeds.

Lagging behind Europe and our neighbours to the south, Canada at present has no regulations governing the quiet motors of EVs. 

Vehicles lacking internal combustion engines tend to generate very little noise other than the sounds of tires moving. In a bustling city environment this can be virtually impossible for a person with blindness or low vision to detect. The results could be disastrous. 

A proposal by Transport Canada in 2021 put in place a requirement for all hybrid and EVs to have sound emitters when travelling at slower speeds. The regulation is to take effect next year. Minimum standards will need to be met but manufacturers would be free to choose what type of sound they apply to their vehicle. 

 This strikes me as rather silly and potentially dangerous. Why not have a standardized sound applied across the board to alert all blind people that an EV’s oncoming? Combustion engines emit enough noise for people with sight issues to distinguish what’s going on and proceed with safety. Not so with the sounds of near silence offered by EVs. 

For the record, many EVs on the road already have some kind of sound emission feature when driven at lower speeds, but this doesn’t apply to older vehicles. This could be a potential boon for used EV dealers. Of course the regulations would also apply to buses, trucks and other forms of transporIn 

Over in Europe a number of studies of have been conducted, all of them concluding that EVs require additional sound to warn visually impaired people about approaching traffic. In 2013, a UK study found that the “number of accidents where pedestrians are injured by EVs/EHVs increased from 98 in 2012 to 151 in 2013, an increase of 54%. This was a new high for electric vehicles at the time. 

Finally in 2019, the European Union mandated EVs to release a noise for pedestrian safety when travelling 20 km an hour or while backing up. All new EVs had to be equipped to meet Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS) by 2021.  A Canadian equivalent can only be a good thing. Hopefully this fact will be noted during public consultations.

Oh, and for the record, Ottawa is introducing new regulations that will require pedestrian warning notifications on e-scooters, believed to be the first of its kind anywhere in the world.

One step forward… 

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