Government must make public EV charging safer for women, says heycar

Online car marketplace heycar has launched a campaign calling for Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan to introduce minimum personal safety standards at electric vehicle (EV) charging locations. The urgent call aims to help protect women and vulnerable users while charging their EVs at any of the 33,000 public chargers across the UK.

The standard would require EV charging locations to be well-lit with monitored CCTV cameras and emergency contact buttons as a minimum. EV locations that meet this standard would be identified with a kitemark so drivers know they can use them with confidence at night or when they are alone.

The campaign follows a survey of drivers which found that 80.3% feel vulnerable when charging their electric car, 62.9% don’t think security measures at charge points are adequate and 88.5% have chosen not to use a charge point because they felt unsafe at the location. Respondents were overwhelmingly in favour of a kitemark recognising EV charging locations with the best safety standards.

Public charging is a ‘game of roulette’

Sarah Tooze, Consumer Editor at heycar, said: “Personal safety at public EV charging points is an issue for all EV drivers, but women feel particularly vulnerable. At the moment it can feel like playing roulette – drivers don’t know what they’ll find when they arrive. The charge point could be at the back of an empty, dimly-lit car park with no security cameras and it may not even be working – potentially leaving them stranded if they don’t have enough charge.

“The issue is particularly pressing given that the clocks go back at the end of this month meaning that more women are likely to find themselves charging in the dark.”

Volkswagen Financial Services (VWFS) UK is backing the campaign.

Emma Loveday, Senior Fleet Consultant at VWFS UK, said: “Women can be vulnerable when they use an electric charging point without safety and security measures. There is a risk of women being subjected to unwanted behaviour and, worse, being attacked. The murders of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa and Ashling Murphy are still present in our minds. I haven’t heard of any incidents involving violence against women at charging points, but I am not naïve enough to think it won’t ever happen. It’s a case of when, not if.”

Keele University research reveals women’s safety concerns

New research from Keele University illustrates the concerns of women when using public electric vehicle charging points. The University interviewed 16 female electric car drivers and found that most were concerned about charging late at night in dark, poorly lit, unsheltered, and relatively isolated areas. Many felt “trapped” inside their vehicles while charging, especially if there were no basic amenities close by.

Academics at Keele University also noted that a disabled woman could be “doubly vulnerable” if charging at an unlit location and where accessibility to and from their vehicle to reach charging cables was more difficult. In addition, they noted how men may also feel uncomfortable when charging in these circumstances.

Consequently, the women the researchers spoke to would like public charging locations to be: well-lit and appropriately located; have CCTV cameras; have online support for charging available ‘on-tap’; be close to amenities such as toilets and a coffee shop; and have parent and child EV spaces.

Professor Simon Pemberton, a member of the research team at Keele University, said: “To date, most of the focus around public EV charging has been on the nature of chargers and charging capacity rather than the actual needs and experiences of different user groups – such as women – in relation to public EV charging. Our research begins to address this knowledge gap and the challenges that need to be overcome to facilitate a just transition to zero emission vehicles in the UK.”

Why now is the time to act

heycar’s campaign is also supported by ChargeSafe, an independent, five-star rating system for public EV charging, based on personal safety and accessibility.

Kate Tyrrell, co-founder of ChargeSafe, said: “Ultimately, with the Government’s 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars we are all going to end up driving electric. But right now there is an opportunity to make sure that women are protected when charging their cars before the infrastructure is even built out.

“There are currently about 33,000 public chargers – about 10% of the 300,000 we need in the UK by 2030 – so if we can create a standard within the next two years, before the installation of chargers really takes off, then we can make a very positive impact on women’s safety on a nationwide scale.”

heycar’s Tooze added: “At the moment the onus is on EV drivers reporting existing charging locations as unsafe through platforms such as ChargeSafe, and there is no guarantee that the chargepoint network operators will take any steps to address those concerns.

“Local authorities and the landlords of charge point sites also have fundamental roles to play in what safety and security measures are at charge points locations. With so many different stakeholders Government intervention is needed to ensure standards are set.”

Case study: Karina Smillie, aged 41 from Glasgow

Electric vehicle driver Karina Smillie was left physically shaking after an incident charging her car alone in a public car park recently.

Karina, aged 41 from Glasgow, regularly travels long distances for her job as a self-employed musician and it is essential for her to use public charge points, often late at night.

She made the switch from a seven-year-old petrol car to a new MG ZS earlier this year for the environmental benefits, along with tax and fuel savings, but her experience of the public charging networks in England and Scotland has left a lot to be desired.

On one occasion she had a string of gigs and had to stop to charge in Berwick-upon-Tweed. It was there she encountered so-called ‘charge rage’ by a couple who arrived in their electric car while she was still charging.

“The woman started shouting at me – calling me inconsiderate and totally selfish,” Karina said. “She kept slamming her car door and shouting at me. And the man accused me of not understanding how an EV works.

“They were really angry and I couldn’t understand why because I’d told them I would only be five more minutes. I felt my fight-or-flight response kick in and I was getting shaky.

“I said to the guy ‘I don’t know if you appreciate what’s going on here but I’m a woman travelling on my own for work. I’m trying to use this charge point. Both of you have been quite aggressive and are shouting at me. It’s really horrible. And I hope that your partner, if that’s who you’ve got with you in the car, doesn’t have to experience this at any point because this is horrible’. But he wasn’t apologetic or anything.”

Karina said the couple didn’t physically threaten her but it left her questioning what would have happened if they had done so.

“I was looking around for a CCTV camera and there was none. There was no one else around and I was about a 10-minute walk from the nearest shop. And I had no choice but to get out of my car to unplug the charging cable – I couldn’t just drive away. And there was no button on the machine to press in an emergency. I thought ‘this isn’t safe’, and there must be other people who feel the same.”

Karina has found there are “varying degrees” of how safe public charging places are.

“I used to stop at petrol stations at 2am and although it would be quiet the forecourt would be well-lit and there would be a cashier so at least one other person,” she said. “You just don’t have that with all EV charging sites.”

She plans all of her journeys in advance, always identifies three potential charging sites, and never lets her car’s estimated remaining range go below 15% in case one charging point isn’t working.

“It’s a whole new way of thinking and planning your work and it’s another layer of stress,” Karina said.

After her frightening public EV charging experience, Karina is now having her front garden turned into a driveway so she can have a home charger fitted, even though it is an additional expense she was hoping to avoid.

“We’re borrowing money to get this work done but safety is paramount,” Karina said.

To support the campaign and share your experience of using a public EV charging point, visit https://heycar.co.uk/blog/ev-charging-safety, where you can also see examples of charging point locations which are highly rated for safety and those which are lacking safety and security measures.

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