‘With the number of electric vehicles globally and in Australia projected to increase, with cumulative estimates of more than 500 million electric vehicles sold globally by 2040, it’s important to do something now.’

Low vision or blind pedestrians are being put at risk by the growing number of hybrid and electric vehicles on our roads, according to new research from Monash University and Vision Australia.

The researchers are calling for Australia to harmonise its vehicle safety standards with Europe, and ensure an ‘Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System’ is fitted to all hybrid and electric vehicles.

“The AVAS would require an electric or hybrid vehicle to make a noise when travelling up to and include 20km/h, while travelling forward or in reverse,” said Karen Knight, Vision Australia general manager.

“Regulatory authorities in the US and Europe moved quickly with regulations being passed concerning minimum noise standards for electric and hybrid vehicles when travelling at low speed and we believe now is the time for Australia to follow suit.”

Although they’re quiet for everyone, low-vision pedestrians are at extra risk of stepping in front of an electric or hybrid vehicle, given they’re extra reliant on engine noise to discern whether there’s traffic oncoming.

“While there are many advantages of electric cars, the quiet engines make it incredibly difficult to hear them coming especially when they’re travelling at low speeds,” said Karen Knight.

“This can be a real problem in car parks and near driveways, and is a major concern for distracted pedestrians, children, the elderly and people who are blind or have low vision.”

According to the research, the majority of incidents involving hybrid vehicles happen in areas where pedestrians are meant to have right of way, like zebra crossings and footpaths. One of the people surveyed has lost three canes to near-accidents with cars and bikes with “near-silent engines”.

“The community need to look out for each other by ensuring every pedestrian in their immediate path is safe. The blind community rely upon the public to give way and look out for their white canes and dog guides to ensure they are safe,” said Donna Dyson, one of Vision Australia’s clients.

“This of course will benefit many wider community members such as the aged and the very young around vehicles.”