A warning noise for e-scooters sounds promising, but won't prevent crashes

The best electric scooters
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Researchers are working with e-scooter hire companies in the UK to develop a distinctive noise that will warn pedestrians about approaching vehicles. As The Guardian explains, Dott, Lime, and Tier are collaborating with a team from University College London to create a noise should be particularly helpful for people with sight loss.

There are already similar rules in place for electric cars in many territories around the world. The US, EU and Japan, require electric cars to make a warning noise when travelling at low speeds, to help avoid accidents in parking lots where pedestrians may not notice a car silently pulling out of a space

For example, in February 2018, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ruled that electric cars must emit a warning sound when moving at speeds less than 18.5mph.

No country has insisted on a specific noise though, so carmakers seized the opportunity to have some fun. Mercedes-Benz, for example, enlisted help from Linkin Park to create a bespoke noise with a dash of nu-metal, while Citroen experimented with upbeat little tunes for its self-driving electric pods.

It's a way for automakers to stretch their creative muscles, but a single standardized sound for e-scooters makes more sense. The aim is to create a distinctive alert that will be easy to hear and identify, but won't add to the overall ambient street noise.

The sound of silence

However, this won't fully solve the problem, as many of the scooters on UK streets aren't officially licensed and operated – and these are a big part of the problem. The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (Pacts) has been assessing the safety of private e-scooter use, and identified over 300 recorded injuries caused by collisions with private scooters in 2021 alone.

Because theses scooters aren't sold for use on roads, they don't have to comply with any particular safety standards.

By contrast, scooters managed by hire schemes must stick to strict rules, with a modest speed cap, lights, and electric brakes. They can only be borrowed if you have at least a provisional driving license, and are equipped with GPS so your location can be tracked while you're using them. Local authorities can also set 'geo-fenced' areas where they can't be parked.

If trials with the new warning sound are successful, it could be rolled out nationwide, but devices to emit the noise will only be fitted to hire scooter.

Privately owned scooters aren't licensed or managed in any way, so although the introduction of a universal warning sound will be a step in the right direction, pedestrians will still have to be on their guard for other scooters that could move much faster than licensed ones, with no lights, and in near silence.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of TechRadar's sister site Advnture. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better)