Safety campaigners are calling for all electric cars to be fitted with devices that mimic the sound of a petrol engine so blind pedestrians can hear them coming.
The call comes after the European Parliament passed legislation earlier this month requiring such devices to be standard on all new hybrid and electric vehicles by 2019.
Our Ministry of Transport says there is no move to follow suit just yet, but it is monitoring developments overseas with an eye to recommending a similar legislation here.
The NZ Blind Foundation supports the move, but others have questioned whether we should be increasing traffic noise, particularly in dense urban areas like Wellington and Auckland.
The European law came about because British politicians were concerned some plug-in cars emit very little sound when running on electric power only.
Kiwi road safety campaigner Clive Matthew-Wilson said that could have fatal consequences for not just blind and partially sighted pedestrians, but children as well.
"We've had 100 years of conditioning that cars make noise and when there is no noise we can easily assume there is no car."
Making the devices mandatory in this country was an absolute "no-brainer".
"It is already an issue here because a large percentage of the taxi fleet is hybrid, which make no noise at all when moving from a standing start.
The devices, known as Acoustic Vehicle Alerting Systems (AVAS), could cost as little as $30 and be programmed to make a distinctive "ping", rather than mimic a combustion engine, if that was deemed more sensible.
The only issue was finding a balance between alerting and annoying people when it came to setting a mandatory decibel level, Matthew-Wilson said.
Taxi Federation executive director Roger Heale said the organisation would support AVAS devices becoming standard, provided the legislation did not force additional costs on to drivers.
He also raised the issue of increasing traffic noise, pointing to the fact that Europe also passed laws forcing conventional vehicles to emit 25 per cent less noise.
"There's another line of argument. Is this just being pushed by insurance companies to defend drivers from careless pedestrians?"
Blind Foundation spokeswoman Deborah Ward said the preference would be for electric vehicles to mimic a petrol engine rather than have their own distinctive sound.
"It's one less sound to have to identify."
- The Dominion Post
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