Fleets are questioning the need for new technology designed to make electric vehicles noisier so pedestrians are more aware of their presence.
Academics are currently devising systems that replicate the sound of acceleration and changing gear in vehicles with regular power units for use in electric vehicles.
“It is unlikely to be expensive and it could be on sale in the next few months,” said Prof Paul Jennings, the man in charge of experiential engineering at Warwick University.
However, fleets are not convinced of the need to make EVs noisier – just one of the major businesses that have ordered more than 400 chassis cabs from Modec - Britain’s biggest commercial EV manufacturer - over the last three years has specified noise-awareness equipment be fitted.
“Because their vans are being used in massive hangers where a lot of people work, Royal Mail asked for devices that produce an intermittent beeping noise,” explained Modec spokesman Paul O’Dowd.
“But when we asked the Department of Transport for general advice relating to this aspect of pedestrian safety, they replied that it all came down to driver diligence.”
Another fleet said quiet vehicles are actually an advantage. Marks and Spencer uses an electric van for deliveries to offices and stores in London.
“Not only is the vehicle emission free, it is also very quiet, which makes it ideal for delivers in urban areas,” said spokesman Philip Sorensen.
But, the European Commission is now exploring whether to legislate for a minimum noise standard to protect cyclists and pedestrians, especially those who are visually impaired.
So, along with noise evaluation company NoViSim, Prof Jennings’ team is studying how pedestrians respond to a variety of sounds generated by the equipment from speakers in an electric delivery van used on the university campus.
“We have the technology that allows us to create in real time the interior sounds of a vehicle but impending legislation covering electric vehicles prompted us to study exterior sound. The result is software that we believe provides a combination of sounds that promise to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists in urban and city areas,” he said.
“Significantly, a lot of conventional vehicles are also now very quiet in operation at low speeds, so the system could well have other applications.”