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Pedestrians twice as likely to be hit by electric or hybrid cars, research suggests

Quieter, heavier vehicles could pose a deadlier threat on impact than petrol or diesel ones, Irish medics say

Pedestrians are twice as likely to be hit by an electric or hybrid car as by those powered by petrol or diesel, a UK study suggests.

Irish emergency medicine doctors said this could be a result of these vehicles being much quieter than their more traditional counterparts, adding EVs are heavier than petrol or diesel cars, meaning they can be more deadly on impact.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), analysed road casualty data in Great Britain between 2013 and 2017 for every 100 million miles of road travel.

Between these years, there were 916,713 casualties from reported road traffic collisions in Britain. Of these, 120,197 were pedestrians, 96,285 of whom had been hit by a car or taxi.


Three quarters of these pedestrians – 71,666 – had been hit by a car powered by petrol or diesel. Some 1,652 (2 per cent) had been hit by an electric or hybrid vehicle. In nearly one in four of the pedestrian casualties, the vehicle type code was missing.

Most collisions occurred in urban areas, and more of the electric or hybrid collisions occurred in such locations, at 94 per cent, compared to 88 per cent of petrol or diesel collisions.

Based on this data, the researchers calculate that between 2013 and 2017, the average annual casualty rates of pedestrians per 100 million miles of road travel were 5.16 for electric and hybrid vehicles and 2.40 for petrol and diesel vehicles.

This indicates that collisions with pedestrians were, on average, twice as likely with electric and hybrid vehicles as they were with petrol and diesel vehicles, and three times as likely in urban areas than in rural areas, the researchers said.

Ireland’s Road Safety Authority does not collect equivalent data.

Prof Conor Deasy, professor in emergency medicine at University College Cork and president of the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine, said: “The fact that electric vehicles are nearly silent may be a contributing factor; the fact that electric vehicles are dense in certain cities where pedestrians and scooters are also dense is also a factor.”

In 2019, the European Union introduced a new rule, under which new electric vehicles will have to feature a noise-emitting device to improve safety for pedestrians, particularly those who are blind or visually impaired.

John Legge, a consultant in emergency medicine at St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin, said electric vehicles were heavier than petrol and diesel cars due to their batteries.

“Higher risk of injury depends on the speed of the car, the mass of the car and the height,” he said, adding that, as a result, EVs could pose a more serious risk to pedestrians upon impact.

The researchers behind the study said: “One plausible explanation for our results is that background ambient noise levels differ between urban and rural areas, causing electric vehicles to be less audible to pedestrians in urban areas.”

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times