Electric cars are 'silent killers' visually-impaired woman warns after near miss

Mike Wright
Electric cars have risen sharply in popularity in recent years, with more than 200,000 on the UKs roads - Reuters
Electric cars have risen sharply in popularity in recent years, with more than 200,000 on the UKs roads - Reuters

Electric cars are “silent killers” a visually-impaired woman has said after she was narrowly saved by pedestrian from being hit by one of the vehicles.

Debra Roffey, 52, just missed the near-silent car after her five-year-old guide dog Crystal failed to recognise it coming down the seafront at Paignton, Devon. 

Following the incident, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)  called for electric vehicles to be retro-fitted with new sound warning devices.

Mrs Roffey, from Lamerton, in Tavistock, Devon, said: "Electric cars are silent killers. A passer-by grabbed me, pulling me and Crystal out of the way of one.

"There was no warning. There was no noise and no fumes from an exhaust, so Crystal didn't pick up on the fact there was a car behind us on the seafront pathway. We could have been seriously injured or worse."

Mrs Roffey, who is married to Philip, 68, has optical atrophy, which has left her with ten percent vision in her left eye and her right eye completely blind.

"I only go outside with Crystal and always put my life in her hands. What happened has definitely damaged my confidence, so something needs to be done," she added.

"It is ridiculous that there are so many noiseless electric cars on the road - I've nothing against electric cars but they should all have sound systems so people know they are there".

EU regulations came into force earlier this year mandating that new electric cars have to be fitted with warning sounds, known as AVAS (Audible Vehicle Alert Systems), to alert pedestrians and guide dogs. 

However, safety campaigners say this still leaves thousands of vehicles on the road with no warning systems.

Hugh Huddy, Policy and Campaigns Manager at RNIB, said: “The very low sound levels on electric and hybrid cars make them a danger to blind and partially sighted pedestrians, who rely on the sound of a vehicle to know it is there. 

 “We remain concerned that the thousands of electric vehicles already on Britain’s roads may never be retrofitted with this essential safety feature, creating a discrepancy in safety standards, and putting blind and partially sighted people like Deborah at unacceptable levels of risk.”

Quieter electric and hybrid cars are becoming a more regular sight on British roads with latest Government figures showing 220,000 have been registered in the UK as of June.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), more than 28,000 purely electric cars were bought in the UK between January and October, up 125 percent on the 12,000 bought over the same period last year.

The increase comes as the Government has created a number of incentives for motorists to switch to electric cars, including grants to have chargers fitted at their homes.

Ministers are also consulting on a scheme to give electric and hybrid cars green number plates that would give drivers privileges such as using bus lanes and cheaper parking.

Following the warning, the SMMT said: “The safety of motorists and pedestrians is the number one priority for the automotive industry. Manufacturers invest billions in safety technology, including pedestrian-alert sounds, with many models now featuring the technology ahead of regulation.”