Colchester: Blind groups call for noisy electric cars


- Credit: Archant

CAMPAIGNERS have called for electric cars to be given an artificial sound, so blind and partially-sighted people can hear them coming.

Organisations such as Guide Dogs for the Blind and the Royal National Institute for the Blind want the changes made as does Colchester-based blind charity Essex Sight.

They are being supported by Essex Euro MP Richard Howitt who met campaigners in Colchester recently to discuss the threat electric vehicles, which make a low level of noise, pose to people with sight loss. Mr Howitt, who is president of the all-party disability intergroup at the European Parliament, said the problem is being raised now before production of electric cars takes off on a large scale.

He said: “Research in Britain, taking into account the number of vehicles on the road, shows pedestrians are more likely to be hit by an electric car than a conventional one.

“Just as we have a warning sound when a van or lorry is reversing, so it is technically possible to design a sound into electric cars.

“What we must ensure is that the noise is a common standard for all vehicles, so that is it recognisable. It’s no good different vehicles having different noises.”

Mr Howitt, who has lobbied for the changes in Europe, said the measure has already been introduced in the US although vehicles have an on-off switch, which many drivers turn off.

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The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association has already launched a campaign called ‘Safe and Sound’ to highlight the problem of an increasing number of quiet cars on the roads. It says research shows that electric and hybrid cars travelling under 20 mph can only be heard less than a second before impact. The organisation wants noise levels on all vehicles to be above 70 decibels.

At Essex Sight, community support officer Patricia Marshall said if something isn’t done the problem will get worse as more people are predicted to suffer from reduced sight in the coming years.

She said: “Electric cars may be good to the environment but at the moment they are a nightmare for blind and partially-sighted people.

“As the number of elderly people in our population increase, so will the number of people with varying degrees of sight loss, as the problem is age-related.”

According to Dr Ben Lane, managing editor of, there are around 3,000 cars on the road in the UK at the moment with the majority being registered as part of company car fleets. Mr Lane estimates this number is set to double by the end of the year.

He said: “Manufacturers are aware of the issue although no standard on noise has been agreed yet.

“The real problem is when cars travel at slow speeds because above 30mph the sound of the wind resistance can alert pedestrians.

He added: Any added noise has to be balanced against the stress noise pollution can cause to people living near to busy roads.”