The new law comes into force on Monday following concerns that vehicles without a petrol or diesel engine are too quiet, which puts cyclists and pedestrians at risk because they do not realise the vehicles are approaching.
New types of quiet electric and hybrid vehicles with four wheels must now be fitted with an acoustic vehicle alert system (AVAS) which will generate a sound similar to that made by a conventional engine.
The AVAS must be activated when a vehicle is reversing or travelling below 12mph, but the driver will have the power to deactivate it if judged necessary.
Roads minister Michael Ellis said: “The Government wants the benefits of green transport to be felt by everyone, and understands the concerns of the visually impaired about the possible hazards posed by quiet electric vehicles.
“This new requirement will give pedestrians added confidence when crossing the road.”
Concerns were also raised by the charity Guide Dogs – which had complained it was difficult to hear low-emission cars approaching.
It told the BBC it welcomed the change but added that electric vehicles should make a sound at all speeds.
New electric cars will need to be equipped with a noise-emitting device to alert other road users. We support this as a critical step in ensuring people with sensory impairments feel safe @sensecharity @RNIB @guidedogs https://t.co/PE7IqAx06n— Richard Kramer (@RichardKSense) June 30, 2019
Richard Kramer, chief executive of the disability charity Sense, welcomed the new law and tweeted: “We support this as a critical step in ensuring people with sensory impairments feel safe.”
Hugh Huddy, policy manager at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), said: “The very low sound levels on electric and hybrid vehicles make them a potential danger to blind and partially sighted pedestrians like me, because we need the sound of a vehicle to know it is there.
“After years of campaigning on this issue, we welcome the new regulations coming into force, which will ensure that all new electric vehicles have audible warning sounds.
“However, it will take time for the new AVAS to apply to electric cars everywhere and we remain concerned that existing electric cars on the roads won’t be fitted with this essential safety feature for years – creating a discrepancy in safety standards on Britain’s roads until 2021.”
i has contacted British Cycling for comment.
Petrol and diesel ban
The Government announced a plan last summer to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040.
Alternatively-fuelled vehicles such as pure electrics and plug-in hybrids made up 6.6 per cent of the new car market in May, compared with 5.6 per cent during the same month in 2018.
But in May, James Dyson accused the government of “watering down” its commitment to electric vehicles after failing to take his advice to ban petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030.
A report from the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee in October last year called for the ban to be brought forward to 2032, calling the “effectively zero emission by 2040” plan both “vague and unambitious.”