The UK’s largest e-scooter provider is trialling adding artificial sound to the vehicles in three cities to protect blind and partially sighted pedestrians.
Engineers at Voi have designed a low humming sound that its e-scooters will emit to alert pedestrians that a scooter is approaching.
Like electric cars, e-scooters typically make little to no noise while moving. The European Union ruled that all new electric cars required a noise-emitting device back in 2019 following concerns raised by campaigners including the charity Guide Dogs that pedestrians were at greater risk from vehicles they could not hear as easily as those with traditional combustion engines.
Voi will be adding the artificial noise to 60 e-scooters in Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol, where its vehicles are being trialled alongside a consultation to collect feedback from visual impairment groups, local councils and police.
The company is just one of the e-scooter firms vying to become commonplace in cities and towns across the UK. Lime, Dott and Tier are the three e-scooter operators chosen to spearhead a year-long rental pilot scheme in partnership with Transport for London (TfL) in four London boroughs earlier this week, while Ginger, Spin, Bird and Zwings have launched projects in urban areas across the UK.
E-scooters belonging to the three operators in London have been fitted with bells ahead of equipping them with similar noise-emitting warning systems, according to the BBC.
While e-scooters rented from Government-backed trials can be ridden on public roads, privately-owned scooters can only be used on private land.
Voi, which has facilitated more than 2.5m rides to date, is planning to present the RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) with the findings of its artificial noise trial following its conclusion in August.
Eleanor Southwood, chairman of the RNIB, told the transport select committee last July that the 15mph maximum speed of rental scooters was a “really serious concern“.
“We are pleased to see it will not be allowed to ride on the pavements, however, if you can’t see you cannot detect a silent vehicle, like electric cars, there is no audible clue,” she told MPs.
Robin Spinks, strategic lead of innovation partnerships at the RNIB, said the institute was working with the e-scooter industry to ensure the machines were sensitive to the needs of blind and partially sighted people.
An audible warning is one such solution and we look forward to receiving feedback from the community,” he said.
Jack Samler, general manager at Voi in the UK and Ireland, said the company was looking forward to testing the new sound and evaluating its findings.
“Electric engines on e-scooters, like those on electric cars and buses, are extremely quiet which can be unnerving to other road users,” he said.
“By adding an appropriate sound we can hopefully improve the safety of our operations for all road users, including those who are vulnerable because of sight loss.”