The adoption of electric vans could cause increased risk to pedestrians without proper education, according to RED Corporate Driver Training.

It said that, with government data saying pedestrian deaths are twice as likely to occur on urban roads, and serious injuries six times more likely, an increase in last-mile deliveries with EVs posed a major risk.

RED Corporate Driver Training CEO Seb Goldin said: “The delivery market has boomed in the past few years, and there has been a race to sign up as many drivers as possible and to maximise the number of drops, and our concern is this will lead to lower standards of driving which results in more accidents.

“Many companies are turning to electric vehicles for their ‘last mile’ service too. It’s undoubtedly a good thing in urban environments, because they reduce pollution from noise and emissions.

“But as always, there are some drawbacks we need to address, and one is pedestrian safety. The Department for Transport figures on the number of pedestrians killed and injured are quite shocking, and our concern is that as the number of near-silent EVs increase, the figures will start to climb again.” 

RED believes interventions will be necessary, in part due to statistics showing heavier commercial vehicles are more dangerous to pedestrians.

Goldin said: “Our concern is that EVs are often heavier and vehicle weight clearly has an impact on KSI (killed or seriously injured) numbers. So we believe that more needs to be done to ensure that the growth of commercial vehicle traffic in urban areas doesn’t put more pedestrians at risk.

“This means training commercial vehicle drivers in the art of driving in urban centres: how to position themselves to be seen easier, to predict pedestrian behaviours better and to stay alert. Also, we believe the fitment of ADAS and warning technology is crucial to solving this problem too.”

Noting that pedestrian error – including failure to look and carelessness – was a contributing factor in nearly 23,000 KSI incidents in the past five years, Goldin added: “The most common contributory factor in fatal or serious collisions between pedestrians and a vehicle was ‘pedestrian failed to look properly’. Near- silent EVs, operating in urban environments, will not help reduce this factor, because as our experience of training has found, many people cross roads using their hearing, rather than looking properly.

“Anyone who has driven an EV in a town or city will have experienced sitting behind a pedestrian wandering along, oblivious to the vehicle behind them. And this is only likely to become more common.”

Although electric vehicles are now being fitted with noise-emitting devices to help pedestrians hear them coming at low speed, RED does not believe this is enough to solve the problem.

A spokesperson said: “While an acoustic vehicle alerting system (AVAS) is now mandatory, we don’t feel it addresses the complexities of urban driving in full. 

“AVAS is a part of the solution but in noisy urban areas its impact can be limited. It also fails to take into account pedestrians who are plugged in to their phone and are not concentrating on the world around them. 

“Anecdotal evidence from our clients also suggests that people don’t immediately recognise the noises made by AVAS as being from a vehicle – it’s all part of the re-education that we all need to go through as we adapt to far more widespread EV adoption.”

With driver error said to be a contributing factor in nearly 18,000 KSI incidents since 2016, Goldin believes more training of urban drivers is needed, particularly when they are at the wheel of EVs.

He said: “Bringing these shocking numbers down needs more awareness and training on all sides: drivers, especially those in commercial vehicles spending much of their time in towns and cities. Drivers need to be trained in new techniques to limit the risk to themselves and pedestrians, such as focusing on concentration, anticipation and observation in these urban environments and discovering how to professionally assess the risks ahead using hazard prediction training, while still making good progress.

“But pedestrians are part of the solution too. I suspect the majority don’t know the new Highway Code rules on who has priority at junctions, but also they need to be aware that there will be heavier, quieter and faster vehicles around them, and act more carefully.

‘If drivers and pedestrians don’t both take on more responsibility and care, in the next few years, we fear the numbers will rise, and that would be a tragedy.”