Electric cars in Switzerland will be required to make an artificial noise. The aim of the measure is to improve safety for pedestrians, especially the visually impaired.
Switzerland implemented this measure by adopting an EU regulation (Regulation EU No 540/2014). This requires that, by July 2019, all new models of electric, fuel cell and hybrid cars are equipped with an acoustic alert system that generates “engine noises”. The measure will apply to all new electric, hybrid and fuel cell cars by 2021.
The so-called Acoustic Vehicle Alerting Systems (AVAS) are required to generate a sound at low speeds, i.e. anything up to approximately 20 km/h, as well as during reversing. The sound level cannot exceed that of a petrol or diesel car operating under the same conditions. A switch will allow drivers to turn off the AVAS, for example when a vehicle is stationary.
Electric vehicles have frequently been praised for their low noise levels, thus reducing the negative environmental and health impact of vehicle noise emissions, especially in urban areas. However, there has been growing concern that electric vehicles have become so quiet that they can barely be heard when they travel at low speeds. This poses a new risk to cyclists and pedestrians, especially those who are blind and visually impaired, who rely on being able to hear the noise of engine to alert them to the presence of moving vehicles nearby.
The Swiss federal roads office (Astra) notes that accident statistics do not yet highlight electric and hybrid vehicles as a particular issue. Similarly, there is no conclusive EU data that shows an increased safety risk from electric vehicles. On the other hand, a study by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that hybrid vehicles were more likely to be involved in crashes with pedestrians and cyclists. The study estimated that requiring cars to produce an artificial noise at low speeds could prevent 2 400 injuries in the US every year.
The Swiss Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (SBV) called the Swiss decision to adopt the EU legislation a “vital” one, but also urges further measures. “Ears are the eyes of the blind”, SBV’s Joël Favre told ‘NZZ am Sonntag’. "If we cannot hear vehicles, it limits our freedom of movement, which constitutes a clear loss of quality of life”. Therefore the SBV, along with organisations such as the European Blind Union (EBU), are pushing for additional measures to improve road safety for the blind and visually impaired, such as the removal of the ability of the driver to turn off the AVAS when an electric or hybrid car is stationary, as well as the introduction of similar sound requirements for e-bikes and e-mopeds.