Electric cars hit pedestrians at double the rate of petrol or diesel vehicles, a study in a BMJ journal has found.

Experts said that electric or hybrid cars were twice as likely to be involved in a road accident with a bystander than a petrol or diesel car over the same distance.

The researchers suggested the vehicles’ quieter engines were a significant factor in higher fatality rates and called on the Government to mitigate the risks as it phases out petrol and diesel cars in pursuit of net zero.

The study looked at the number of casualties from road collisions in Britain between 2013 and 2017 using Road Safety Data and calculated the number of pedestrians that had been hit by different types of cars.

Over the period, 96,285 pedestrians were hit by a car or taxi. While three-quarters of these people had been hit by a car with a combustion engine, this was because they covered significantly more miles.

Pedestrian casualties

To overcome this, the researchers calculated the rate of casualties per 100 million miles covered by electric and hybrid cars compared with petrol and diesel cars.

They found that 5.16 people on average were hit by an electric or hybrid car for every 100 million miles that type of vehicle had driven, compared with 2.4 people for petrol and diesel cars.

The road accident data were cross-referenced with annual mileage figures from the National Travel Survey, with 32 billion miles of electric and hybrid vehicle travel and three trillion miles of petrol and diesel vehicle travel included in the analysis.

Two per cent of the pedestrian casualties were caused by an electric vehicle, while 24 per cent of the accidents did not have a record of the engine type.

The researchers said that even in an “extreme case” scenario where all of these were accidents involving traditional combustion engine cars, the casualty rate would have been 3.16 per 100 million miles, still 63 per cent lower than seen with electric cars.

‘Less audible’

There was also a threefold greater risk of being hit by an electric car in cities than in rural areas.

Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young people, and one in four road traffic deaths are of pedestrians, the researchers said.

Dr Phil J Edwards, lead author from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, suggested the results were because electric cars are “less audible to pedestrians in urban areas” where there is more background noise.

He said the risk posed to pedestrians by electric and hybrid cars “needs to be mitigated as governments proceed to phase out petrol and diesel cars”.

Since 2021, electric vehicles have been required to have sound generators installed, but the minimum requirement of 56 decibels is still significantly quieter than that of a petrol or diesel engine.

While 56 decibels is akin to a refrigerator or an office computer, combustion engines make a noise of around 70 decibels which is the equivalent of a busy office, washing machine or vacuum cleaner. The findings were published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.



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