Crossing the street in the age of electric vehicles has added a new risk – they are so quiet pedestrians may not hear them at low speeds. This is a major concern for Blind Citizens Australia president Fiona Woods, who says the near-silent vehicles will put all pedestrians in danger, particularly those with vision impairments. The solution, Woods and researchers agree, is technology installed in electric and hybrid vehicles that makes a sound at low speed when their engines are not running. This Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System has been approved by the United Nations and made mandatory in various countries, and the U.S. is even considering retrofitting nine million older quiet vehicles with the sound-making technology. But Australia has yet to follow suit, leaving the technology’s inclusion up to manufacturers which could lead to more road accidents. Blind Citizens Australia has called for urgent action in their submission, as the issue directly impacts more than 500,000 people with blindness or low vision. Research from Monash University’s Accident Research Centre showed the issue could have widespread consequences, with more than one in three blind or vision-impaired pedestrians having a collision or near-miss with an electric or hybrid vehicle. The European Union, China, and United States have all launched laws to mandate the use of acoustic vehicle alert systems, while Japan introduced guidelines in 2010. Automakers have introduced cars with acoustic alerts to Australia, but some remove the technology before sale. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is considering a petition to retrofit quiet cars released since 1997 with the sound-making technology. The issue has also been raised in the federal government’s National Electric Vehicle Strategy consultation and the National Road Safety Action Plan this month. Electric Vehicle Council policy head Jake Whitehead said introducing acoustic alerts in Australia would be smart, as long as the rules did not create more barriers to getting zero-emission cars into the country. He also noted that the sound does not have to be boring – drivers can choose from a variety of options, from futuristic whooshes to novelty noises.
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