ChargePoint station in Walnut Creek, CA

Electric car road rage, electric car etiquette, and sharing charging stations

An inconveniently unplugged electric car can leave the owner of that car stranded with an unexpectedly flat battery pack, potentially inciting Hulk-like rage, but following common sense etiquette can avoid a whole world of outrage.

The rise of electric cars will give us new ways to accidentally offend others. An example is a recent incident of an electric car driver, in search of a charging station at which to recharge his car, unplugged another electric car while it was being recharged. The incident may have gone unnoticed with nothing more than an irritated post on a discussion forum, except that the victim was Forbes staffer Todd Woody whose ability to write an entertaining little rant made it into the news stream.Woody is currently testing a Ford Focus Electric and had driven to Berkeley CA, where the car was plugged into a charging station while he waited at a Cafe. Upon receiving a text message the car had been unplugged unexpectedly, he went back to the parking garage to find a Coda electric sedan next to the Focus Electric, and that the Coda was now plugged into the charging station. The Coda in question was one of the manufacturer demo cars used by Coda of Silicon Valley. This led to some back-and-forth between Woody, and Coda’s PR department, who apologized profusely for the incident. What’s more important in this case is not the identity of who did what to whom, but the bigger picture status of electric car adoption, electric car recharging infrastructure, and the etiquette of electric car ownership. These sorts of incidents are already happening everywhere electric cars exist, and will happen more frequently as the numbers of electric cars increase.The San Francisco Bay Area is the home to a lot of electric cars today, but electric car recharging infrastructure deployment is lagging behind other areas. One can see this simply by using smart phone apps like Recargo, and browse around the country looking at the number of charging stations in each metropolitan area. The SF Bay Area clearly has fewer than some other areas. In particular the cities of Berkeley, Albany and El Cerrito, an area whose residents are infamous for environmental sensitivity, have one and only one public recharging station. The one which Todd Woody was using that day.

See Tijuana to British Columbia in a Nissan Leaf in 8 days for another take on the state of electric car recharging infrastructure in California versus Washington State and Oregon.

The electric car recharging station infrastructure has a ways to go before there’s enough coverage for even the current electric car owners, much less coming electric car owners. An etiquette for charging station usage will facilitate making the best use of electric car charging resources.

It’s not just electric car owners who must learn the etiquette, it is also gasoline car owners. Electric car charging stations are parking spots in which a charging station is involved, and access to these parking spaces are just as important to electric car owners as is handicapped parking important to those with handicaps.

All electric cars should have preference over plug-in hybrid cars: While a plug-in hybrid car can use electric car charging stations, it is the all electric car owners who are absolutely dependent on access to charging stations. The plug-in hybrid car can recharge its battery pack from the gasoline engine. Owning a plug-in hybrid car is laudable, but ask ones self, which car owner has the deepest need for that charging station, the electric car owner, or the plug-in hybrid owner?
Non-plugin cars do not belong in electric car charging spaces and Hybrid cars are not electric cars: A non-plug-in car parked in an electric car charging spot is said to have ICE’d the parking spot (ICE: Internal Combustion Engine). These cars are unable to use the charging station, and block electric car owners from using the station. It seems that hybrid car owners are sometimes proud of owning their hybrid car, and have developed the idea that the phrase “electric cars” includes hybrid cars. While hybrid car ownership is laudable, a hybrid car parked in an electric car charging space blocks electric car owners from using that space. The plug-in hybrid cars (the Chevy Volt and Prius Plug-In) can use charging stations, but normal hybrid cars cannot.
Electric cars should be parked in an EV charging spot only while charging: An electric car owner may think electric car parking is some kind of privilege for electric car owners, but in reality it is a convenience for those who need to recharge their car. Owning an electric car does not give a right to park in an electric car charging spot, instead it is the need to recharge that gives that right.
When your electric car is done charging, move it so other electric cars can use the charging station: To reiterate, the need to recharge ones car gives the right to park an electric car in an electric car charging spot. Charging stations are still a scarce resource, and we must remember how to share.

This piece of advice might be easy to follow if you’re at work, and can easily go outside to move your car. But what about an electric car parked in long term parking at an airport while the owner is away on a long trip? The car may be fully charged 3 hours after the owner leaves, and will occupy the charging station until the owner returns. There’s not much we, an electric car owner taking an airplane trip, can do about this, instead it is up to the airport to provide enough charging outlets. Long term parking is one example of a perfect situation for slow speed 120 volt charging, and the extreme low price of 120 volt power outlets makes it easy to install dozens of these power outlets.

Place a notice placard in your electric car window: As a courtesy to other electric car owners, leaving a note in your car window giving your phone number can let them get ahold of you if there are concerns or problems. The EV Charger News placard is a good example:
Look at indicator lights to see if a car is still charging before unplugging it: All the electric cars have lights indicating how fully recharged the car is. Unfortunately each automaker has its own idea of the best way to indicate how fully recharged a car is. Unfortunately in some cases the lights turn themselves off, making harder to determine if the car is recharging or if the lights are just off for some reason. In any case, the idea is to, before unplugging a car that’s charging, to have an idea if the car is fully recharged yet. Unplugging a fully charged car is at most a minor annoyance.
Placing notes on cars who ICE an electric car charging space: Electric car owners sometimes get irate when a charging station is ICED. We sometimes wish to turn into the Incredible Hulk and start smashing things. An angry note left on a car might give a momentary rush of power, but will that nastygram help with relationships between gasoline and electric car owners? No.
Safety first: Be careful with how you run the charging cord, taking care to run the cord in a way to avoid others from tripping over it.

The legal status of any limits or control over electric car charging station usage is spotty at best. The etiquette over handicapped parking usage is well understood everywhere, with fairly uniform laws across the country. While California has a law concerning electric car charging station usage, most locations do not.

With this sort of etiquette we can share the electric car recharging stations until such time as the powers that be install enough stations.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.
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About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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