As EV sales explode, talks revolve around noise and safety

As EV sales explode, talks revolve around noise and safety

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Hyperboucle, hydrogen trains, and air taxis. Like the 21st century ahead, the way people move from point A to point B is on the cusp of a major change driven by design and innovation.

While the above technologies are a few years away from widespread adoption, that doesn’t mean the change isn’t already underway.

National and municipal governments around the world are trying to reduce emissions and improve urban air quality, many of them trusting a growing sector: battery electric vehicles.

There is undoubtedly a momentum behind the industry. A recent report from the International Energy Agency indicated that around 3 million new electric cars were registered last year, a record amount and an increase of 41% compared to 2019.

Looking ahead, the IEA says the number of electric cars, buses, vans and heavy trucks on the roads – its projection does not include two- and three-wheel electric vehicles – is expected to reach 145 million. ‘by 2030.

If governments step up efforts to meet international energy and climate targets, the global fleet could grow further, reaching 230 million by the end of the decade.

A changing world

As the number of electric vehicles on the planet’s roads increases, society will need to adapt.

Vast charging networks, for example, will need to be rolled out to meet increased demand and allay lingering concerns about ‘range anxiety’ – the idea that electric vehicles are not able to handle long periods of time. journeys without losing power and getting stuck.

Another area where we’ll notice a change is noise: in addition to producing zero tailpipe emissions, electric vehicles are much quieter than their diesel and gasoline cousins.

Learn more about electric vehicles from CNBC Pro

This means less noise pollution in urban areas – clearly a good thing – but also poses a potential challenge for other road users, especially those with sight problems.

“For people who are blind or visually impaired, judging traffic can be very difficult,” Zoe Courtney-Bodgener, policy and campaign manager at the UK-based Royal National Institute of Blind People, told CNBC.

Courtney-Bodgener explained that an increasing number of “silent” modes of transport are now in use, giving the example of bicycles and larger electric and hybrid vehicles.

“If you can’t always or reliably use vision to detect these vehicles, then sound is even more important,” she continued.

“And when the sound is not there, or is not loud enough to be able to reliably detect these vehicles, this obviously presents a danger because… you are not able to reliably know when a vehicle is ‘approach you. “

The law of the land

It should be noted that all over the world, legislation and technology have already been introduced in an offer to tackle this problem.

In the European Union and UK, for example, all new electric and hybrid vehicles will need to use an Acoustic Vehicle Alert System, or AVAS, from July 1. This will build on previous regulations that came into effect in 2019.

According to the rules, AVAS is supposed to trigger and make noise when a vehicle’s speed is less than 20 kilometers per hour (about 12 miles per hour) and when it is in reverse.

According to a statement from the UK government in 2019, the sound “may be temporarily deactivated by the driver if he deems it necessary”.

The EU regulation states that the noise emitted by AVAS “shall be a continuous sound which provides information to pedestrians and other road users of a vehicle in operation”.

“The sound should be easily indicative of the behavior of the vehicle,” he adds, “and should resemble the sound of a vehicle of the same class equipped with an internal combustion engine.”

Courtney-Bodgener of RNIB told CNBC that although her organization was “happy” that the AVAS directive had been transposed into UK law, it had not “done everything we wanted it to do”.

She went on to explain how the speed at which the AVAS cuts might need to be increased to 20 or 30 miles per hour.

“We are not convinced that if… a vehicle was traveling at, say 13 miles per hour, it would, on its own, generate enough noise to be reliably detectable by sound.”

Another area of ​​concern is older vehicles. “There are already a lot, a lot of electric and hybrid vehicles that were produced before this legislation came into effect and that don’t have the cutting edge technology on them,” she said.

There was currently no provision to renovate them, she added. “This is a concern as there are already thousands of vehicles on UK roads that do not have AVAS technology.”

From an industry perspective, it seems to be content with the regulations already in place. In a statement sent to CNBC via email, AVERE, the European Association for Electromobility, told CNBC it supports the “current legislative status quo.”

“The 20 km / h limit is sufficient, because at this level other noises – in particular the rolling resistance of the tires – take over and are sufficient for pedestrians and cyclists to hear electric vehicles and hybrids approaching”, added the Brussels organization.

“In fact, imposing additional noise above 20 km / h would deprive European citizens of one of the main benefits of electrification: reduced noise levels at city speed.”

Noise pollution can indeed be a serious problem. According to the European Environment Agency, more than 100 million people in Europe “are exposed to harmful levels of environmental noise pollution”. The agency identifies road traffic noise as “a particular public health problem in many urban areas”.

Regarding older cars to be modernized, AVERE said: “Only a very small part of electric vehicles on European roads would be subject to modernization requirements, as many existing vehicles have already been fitted with AVAS in anticipation of the new requirements, and that the rules were put in place in time to support the expected mass adoption of electric vehicles in the years to come. “

If “additional requirements” were necessary, AVERE said it was ready to engage with policy makers.

The future

Discussions and debates around this topic are expected to continue for a long time and it is clear that a balance will have to be struck in the future.

Whether one thinks that the current legislation goes far enough or not, the fact remains that these types of systems are set to become an increasingly important feature of urban transport in the years to come.

Robert Fisher is Head of EV Technologies at the research and consulting firm SBD Automotive.

He told CNBC by email that the company’s tests had “found AVAS to be quite effective,” but added that if a pedestrian was unfamiliar with the noise, “he cannot automatically associate it with it. in the presence of a vehicle. ”

“Currently, AVAS is mainly hampered by inconsistent legislation and a lack of innovation,” he said, before setting a positive tone for the future.

“As we move away from the internal combustion engine, this technology has the potential to become a key part of a car’s character, a brand differentiator and has the ability to save lives.”

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