Electric vehicle acoustic alerts must be incorporated to ensure safety

Award-winning acoustic sound technology can provide a solution for silent electric vehicles which pose a danger to road users.

Huge developments have been made across the electric vehicle market in the last 10 years and now electric vehicles exceed the many capabilities set by their internal combustion engine counterparts. With increasing numbers of electric vehicles on the road, it is now forecast that over 4.5 million will be sold by 2020 across the globe, making significant strides towards environmentally friendly travel. However, since the start of this growth in electric vehicle sales, there have been calls across the industry to make Acoustic Vehicle Alerting Systems (AVAS) mandatory to ensure vulnerable road users can hear quiet vehicles at slow speeds. Research commissioned by Guide Dogs for the Blind found that pedestrians are 40 per cent more likely to be hit by an electric vehicle than a diesel or petrol one. Clearly electric vehicle acoustic alerts are not only important in reducing that figure significantly, but also a necessity.

The growing problem

We are all taught to look and listen when crossing the street, yet far too often we rely on just sound to detect potential hazards. With more and more electric vehicles being used to counter growing environmental problems, the quiet nature of electric vehicles is not initially seen as a problem until drivers have regularly used the vehicle for some time. Brigade has been speaking to drivers of electric vehicles across the commercial vehicle industry, with some refusing to drive in high foot traffic areas because of the stress incurred by the knowledge that pedestrians cannot hear them.

Research across the globe confirms the severity of the quiet vehicle issue. Mirroring the Guide Dogs’ conclusion that quiet vehicles are dangerous at slow speeds, a study conducted by the University of California found that pedestrians needed to be 74 per cent closer to an electric car over a combustion engine in order to hear it. Those seconds could mean the difference between an accident or moving out of the way unscathed.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released its own statistics. Electric and hybrid vehicles increase the risk of accidents involving pedestrians:

  • During turning manoeuvres: 80%
  • While reversing, slowing and/or stopping; and entering or leaving a parking space or driveway: 100%
  • When travelling at speed limits of 35mph or less: 50%

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also noted that in US shopping mall car parks pedestrians are seven times more likely to be hit by an electric vehicle than a vehicle with an internal combustion engine.

Markets of particular concern are the electric light commercial vehicle (eLCV) market and the bus and coach market. Both markets have made a rapid switch to using electric and hybrid vehicles. Vehicles delivering goods in “the last mile” are now often electric, which is excellent for the environment; but these vehicles are regularly stopping and pulling away close to pedestrian walkways. Whole towns across the United Kingdom and throughout Europe have seen their public transport buses go green, with government incentives pushing this environmentally friendly revolution forward. Buses with internal combustion engines are frequently involved in collisions when pulling into bus stops; so it can only be imagined how a silent version would increase accidents.

Vulnerable road users

Vulnerable road users can be identified by the amount of protection they have or by task capability (young or elderly). In the context of silent vehicles, although a danger for those without visual impairments, those that are blind or partially blind rely heavily on sound to navigate life. This can include crossing roads, using pathways and approaching parked vehicles. Acoustic vehicle alerting systems will ensure those with visual impairments are still able to carry out their normal lives without having to worry about silent vehicles travelling on the roads.

Solving the issue

With the likes of Britain and France committing themselves to ending the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040 and many other European countries considering a closer date, electric vehicles are obviously here to stay. With the silent nature of electric vehicles posing a significant threat to road safety, Brigade Electronics sought to offer a solution that will alert vulnerable road users of an electric or hybrid vehicle’s presence.

Chris Hanson-Abbott formed Brigade Electronics in 1976, inspired by the strange beeping sound he heard emanating from the rear of a small truck on a street in Tokyo. At the time reversing safety had not been addressed outside of Japan, but with the Health and Safety at Work Act recently passed into UK law and vehicles already accounting for a vast number of fatalities, Chris felt it was time for change.

With support from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), Brigade launched its first reversing alarm at the 1976 Commercial Vehicle show in London. This was the first reversing alarm in Europe and was met with a mixed reaction. Over time, as Brigade lobbied the Government and challenged the mindsets of potential customers, health and safety culture has developed to encourage and accept the use of vehicle safety systems.

With a history spanning over 40 years, Brigade has had to navigate many changes impacting road safety regulation. The introduction of standards from FORS and CLOCS to the UK and countless EU directives and legislations for on- and off-road vehicles are just some of the challenges Brigade have had to understand in order to remain as the voice of the industry. The introduction of electric vehicles is no different.

Brigade Electronics has been at the centre of bringing forward government legislation for AVAS devices. In 2010, the Quiet Road Transport Vehicles working group welcomed Brigade as vehicle safety experts to help establish requirements for a UN standard which has now been passed and is due to take effect later this year. A sound which does not add unnecessary noise pollution yet warns pedestrians in the danger zone of a quiet vehicle’s presence was essential. With over 50 meetings around the globe across eight years, legislation was finally passed and Brigade has now developed electric vehicle acoustic alerts which will ensure quiet vehicles are compliant with these standards and ultimately can ensure heightened safety.

Considerations for tonal alarms, speakers fitted to the front of an electric vehicle and even systems that emitted the sounds of cows were all deemed inappropriate. While these sounds would certainly make a pedestrian’s head turn, research found that vulnerable users would then be looking for the source of the sound, looking behind and around an electric vehicle and not sensing danger. This led to setting parameters for sound frequencies which would ensure the sound was similar to that of an operating internal combustion engine, a sound which is familiar to road users and which would clearly indicate a vehicle was present.

Regulations also call for quiet vehicles to emit sound when stationary, as pulling away is the point when an electric or hybrid vehicle is still silent.

Broadband sound

The use of broadband sound is fundamental to both safety and to preventing an abundance of noise pollution. In the early 2000s Brigade developed a reversing speaker which emits broadband sound – tonal alarms were becoming a nuisance in busy and built up urban areas, frustrating residents and causing unnecessary scares to those who were outside of the danger zone. Patented bbs-tek® White Sound® frequencies ensure sound is only ever heard in the danger zone and is highly directional and locatable. This was a huge step in reducing sound pollution and proved to be even more effective at preventing collisions than tonal alarms.

Tonal sounds are strident and piercing, meaning they can travel easily beyond an area at least 30 times greater than the hazard zone. Over the last few decades we have seen the comparisons between tonal and broadband alarms, with the differences being striking. Unfortunately, in some instances, workers on construction sites have become desensitised to tonal alarms and not evaded danger, resulting in fatalities due to the far-reaching nature of tonal sound. For the purpose of reversing it is evident that broadband sound is much better at alerting vulnerable road users.

When Brigade turned its attention to the issue of quiet electric and hybrid vehicles, broadband sound was implemented as the base sound for the Quiet Vehicle Sounder (Brigade’s very own AVAS solution). Imagining an urban environment with many electric vehicles all fitted with a loud, tonal AVAS was not recommended, as this would only add to the sound pollution already present in urban environments and risks exacerbating the issue of desensitisation. A mixture of bbs-tek® White Sound® frequencies and tonal sounds ensured the sounder could only be heard when necessary and could imitate the sound of an internal combustion engine, pitch shifting on acceleration and deceleration; and continuing to operate when the vehicle is idle. Fitted to the front of an electric or hybrid vehicle, the Quiet Vehicle Sounder will emit sound at speeds up to 20mph and then cut off as electric vehicles will have built up some speed when wind and road noise generate enough sound that they can be heard.

Electric vehicle acoustic alerts in action

Interest in Brigade’s AVAS usually stems from a common cause: institutions and organisations are looking to reduce CO2 emissions and ensure they are environmentally friendly but find driving an electric vehicle dangerous due to pedestrians not hearing them.

The University of Birmingham, for instance, is beating targets to reduce CO2 emissions years ahead of schedule but its operational fleet share many roads and pathways with over 35,000 students each year. It is vital the university campus stays safe and that vehicles can be heard, so a trial with the QVS was welcomed. The university was happy to report zero incidences and zero near misses since beginning the trial; and is now ensuring all electric vehicles added to its fleet are fitted with a Quiet Vehicle Sounder.

FM Conway delivers infrastructure services across transportation, construction and the built environment. Similarly to the University of Birmingham, Conway is leading the way in reducing CO2 emissions. A recent £7 million (€8 million) investment in Conway’s fleet has seen the forward-thinking business add electric vans to its London sites in a bid to tackle high emissions in a sustainable way. While the conversion meant the business benefited from saving two thirds of its fuel expenses, paying zero road tax and avoiding low emission zone fees, driving through a busy construction site and not being heard was extremely unsafe. Having previously worked with Brigade, Conway knew where to turn for a vehicle safety solution and agreed to trialling the Quiet Vehicle Sounder in order to solve its quiet vehicle issue. Commended for making “a world of difference”, the QVS would be installed across the entire electric fleet.

LDV has been manufacturing and distributing electric vehicles since 2006 and has seen significant growth in electric vehicle sales over the last 10 years. Now with 50 per cent of all vehicles sold at LDV Heathrow being electric and many customers not looking to return to fossil fuels, one significant piece of customer feedback kept cropping up: electric vehicles moving at slow speeds are virtually silent.

With the introduction of the new EV80 electric van, LDV Heathrow knew it needed to solve this quiet vehicle issue for good and agreed to trial Brigade’s Quiet Vehicle Sounder after being impressed at a Freight in the City exhibition. The QVS proved to be the perfect solution, with LDV happy to receive a product that meets new UN and US regulation.

An award-winning AVAS

Brigade is proud to bring its new product to market after having won multiple awards for innovation and contributing to greater road safety.

Brigade Electronics won a Living Environment Award at the 22nd edition of the Sound, Vibration and Air Quality conference in Hoevelaken, Netherlands. Brigade’s Quiet Vehicle Sounder won the award in the product innovations category presented by former Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment Jacqueline Cramer.

Brigade Electronics has won a CLEPA Innovation Award in the SME Safety Category for its Quiet Vehicle Sounder (QVS) Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System. Organised by CLEPA -The European Association of Automotive Suppliers – the awards celebrate outstanding achievements in the automotive supply industry by recognising innovation in the fields of environment, safety, connectivity, automation and cooperation.

Philip Hanson-Abbott, Managing Director at Brigade Electronics, said: “At Brigade it’s our mission to improve road safety, so we are absolutely thrilled to receive this award and be recognised for the important work we do in helping to prevent collisions and save lives”.

Brigade Electronics won the John Connell Innovation award thanks to the Quiet Vehicle Sounders use of broadband sound. Brigade patented bbs-tek® broadband sound is easier for pedestrians to locate than pure tone sounds, producing a non-invasive sound that quickly dissipates.

Noise Abatement Society Chief Executive Gloria Elliott said: “The Noise Abatement Society congratulates Brigade on its groundbreaking electric car sounder innovation which will help protect pedestrians as well as the aural environment.”

Brigade Electronics was recently named as a finalist in the Innovation category for the Motor Transport Awards 2019.

Looking to the future

We see today that the quiet nature of electric vehicles can pose a problem and that this would only continue to grow were it not for upcoming Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System legislation. However, there are still developments across the entire automotive industry that need to consider an AVAS solution. For example, new electric off-road vehicles such as excavators and bulldozers are in their infancy and will eventually become the norm. These vehicles also operate at slow speeds and are quiet, only making substantial sound once they are undertaking the job they are designed for.

Like off-road construction electric vehicles, autonomous on- and off-road vehicles are usually electric. Again, an AVAS solution must be considered, especially if technology is in the early phases of detecting objects.

With current incentives offered by governments across the world, early adopters will be able to save on their electric vehicles. Now attention should turn to the safety of electric vehicles and encouraging owners of electric vehicles to act now and install an acoustic vehicle alerting system. With only new models compelled by law to have an acoustic vehicle alerting system fitted from September 2019, there will still be plenty of quiet vehicles on the roads without such a system until 2021.

Low-emission zones will also be a point of interest, with many large cities charging drivers who enter these zones if they are not driving an electric or hybrid vehicle. These zones will potentially be dangerous with higher numbers of quiet vehicles than internal combustion engine vehicles in operation.

As with any development in road safety at such a large scale, Brigade Electronics will always strive to provide a solution that will keep road users safe. Our mission is to bring heightened safety to roads and worksites across the globe; and new, exciting changes such as the rise in electric vehicles are just the start of something new.

Ben Greenstreet

Marketing Executive

Brigade Electronics Group Plc

+44 (0)1322 420300



Subscribe to our newsletter


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Featured Topics

Partner News


Latest eBooks

Latest Partners

Similar Articles

More from Innovation News Network