The Ethics of EV Charging: A New Frontier for Electric Cars

stealing a charge

As the use and number of electric cars and plugin hybrids grows, so too has the number of petty annoyances surrounding their use. From the reports of “Iceholes” or “Gasholes” parking their decidedly non-electric vehicles to the cutting of charge cords, reports are beginning to surface that not all are happy under the electric sun.

Last December we saw the widely published reports of the Leaf owner in an Atlanta suburb being arrested for the “theft” of $.05 worth of electricity at a local school. The well-justified outrage papered the internet with retelling of the tale for quite some time.

Some owners of Chevy Volts have reported finding their charging cables cut in their own carports or the charging blocks the cars come with outright stolen. While we are not sure about other cars, we do know that the Volt will start sounding its alarm if the charge cable is disconnected while the car is locked. But with America’s well-documented ability to tune out car alarms, this might not be much of a deterrent and cause more problem to the owner than to the thief or vandal.

Yesterday, mall security guards in Sacramento watched on security monitors as a woman walked over to an electric car in the mall parking lot, unplugged the charge cord and plugged into her own electric. Since they had her on camera, the security guards confronted her, issued a warning and replaced the cord in the original car.

There are a variety of factors at play in these situations. From the outright stupidity of gas car owners parking in electric car charging spaces ,to the rather plain bigotry of the police officer arresting the Leaf owner in Georgia, to the pure petty criminality of the woman in Sacramento, we have a situation in front of us with regards to community behavior.

Hopefully, we can evolve some sensible, human-centric solutions to these issues as the population of EVs and Hybrids grow. But with idiocy like “rolling coal” growing in popularity—amongst those with decidedly Neanderthal line of thinking—it is unlikely common sense will rule the day.

What’s going to happen as the demand for publicly available chargers grows faster than available chargers? With reports of GM working on a 200-mile EV right along side the projected schedule of the Tesla Model III, this is becoming a more likely scenario. Indeed, mall security guards in Sacramento report that the recent incident is not unique.

It’s time to put on our thinking caps folks. We’re entering a few frontier here and we don’t want to turn it into the wild west. There’s no need to turn stealing a charge into a lynching offense but a tow away might be a nice deterrent.

We’re curious about what other opinions are out there.

 

  • mkinla

    GM has an etiquette guideline doc for its employees that might help kick off some thoughts on appropriate behavior; expanded upon with help from the PluginCars.com: http://evworkplace.org/gms-workplace-charging-etiquette/

    Speaking of etiquette, I wonder if that’s a more accurate term than “ethics” when it comes to this discussion? The lady who unplugged a car mid-charge is rude, obnoxious and/or greedy, not necessarily unethical. Semantics are fun! Anyway, good post!

    • mkinla

      or is that semantics IS fun? now i need to find a grammar checker.

  • Larry Schuler

    Now that we all have the standardized plug (J-1772), which obviously is good
    – and bad… What we really need now are standardized dashboard charging lights – so a Focus EV driver can tell when a Leaf or Volt is done charging, and vice versa.

  • Tom Moore

    This doesn’t seem that different from handicapped parking to me, except that EV charger spots are not as choice as handicapped spots. Does anybody enforce handicapped parking or do we all just park elsewhere on good faith? Why wouldn’t the same approach apply?

    In a year of driving an EV nearly 30,000 km, I have not been “ICEed” once, though I have seen a couple of ICEings in slots next to mine. In one case the driver thought he was in a handicapped parking spot and had legitimate claim to one, so he just moved to a real one. In the second case, the person realized they had erred and stated to me that they would move if an electric car came to use the spot. I asked if they would object to me parking at the gasoline pumps nearby, and they immediately got the point and moved.

    EV rivalry for limited spots may be more of an issue, I admit. But that never happens to gasoline car drivers, right? RIGHT. I understand Tesla, at least, is working on software that will alert us in advance to a busy supercharger, and then effectively let us “take a number” when we must use one that is busy. I already have a phone app that lets me leave a QR code on my dashboard, which when scanned by someone seeking a charger port, notifies me that I need to monitor my car and disconnect as soon as it is charged so the next can use it.

    This will all work out fine, apart from a few abuses at times, as in any human activity.

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