Electric Vehicle Parking: Etiquette and the Law

Several months ago, Ford PR sent out a somewhat humorous press release about etiquette at public charging stations for Electric Vehicles, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. The point was that electric vehicles take longer to refuel than combustion vehicles. Cars that run on dino-juice can pull up to any gas station and refill the tank in around five minutes. Electric vehicle take much longer to recharge; anywhere between four and sixteen hours depending on the supply voltage and the state of charge. Such lengthy charging times require the EV drivers to plan ahead, and possibly plan trips around availability of charging stations.

To accommodate and encourage the adoption of electric vehicles, planning and development codes around the country (and the world) have been revised to require EV charging resources to be installed as development occurs. Additionally, as a convenience to customers, many businesses have installed EV charging stations in their parking lots. Of course, as I found out at the city hall in my own town, parking designated for EV charging  was being used out of convenience by non-electric vehicle drivers, simply because the spots were available and unused, and “nobody has electric vehicles.”

With electric vehicle adoption continuing to progress, the chargers installed in public locations are likely to be in use more frequently, meaning that EV drivers won’t necessarily be able to connect to a charger at their destination – it might already be in use. Ford’s question of etiquette is a good one- drivers of a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) may be inclined to plug in at public charging stations despite the fact their cars are capable of operating on gasoline; rendering the charging station unavailable for drivers of pure EVs who may become stranded if they aren’t able to recharge. In that case, is it acceptable for the EV driver to disconnect the PHEV from the charger? How about if a vehicle that is connected to a public charging station is complete (meaning the battery is fully recharged) but the car is still parked there, and the driver hasn’t come out to move or unplug the vehicle – is it okay for another person needing the charger to unplug the “full” car from the charging station? Ford has proposed a dashboard placard for PHEVs allowing the driver to indicate when the charge will be complete, and if/when it is acceptable to disconnect the vehicle from the charger.

While there are no laws (yet) to govern the etiquette questions of when (if ever) it’s acceptable to unplug somebody else’s EV from the charging station, a new law enacted in Washington State has been recently signed in to law to prevent EV charging parking spots from being occupied by vehicles not connected to the charging equipment. On April 23, Governor Jay Inslee signed into law ENGROSSED SUBSTITUTE SENATE BILL 5849, which revises state law to mandate signage for EV charging stations, specifying that only electric vehicles may park in such spots, and they must be connected to the charging equipment while parked there.

The text of the law, added to 48.06 RCW, states:

     (1) An electric vehicle charging station must be indicated by vertical signage identifying the station as an electric vehicle charging station and indicating that it is only for electric vehicle charging. The signage must be consistent with the manual on uniform traffic control devices, as adopted by the department of transportation under RCW 47.36.030. Additionally, the electric vehicle charging station must be indicated by green pavement markings. Supplementary signage may be posted to provide additional information including, but not limited to, the amount of the monetary penalty under subsection (2) of this section for parking in the station while not connected to the charging equipment.
     (2) It is a parking infraction, with a monetary penalty of one hundred twenty-four dollars, for any person to park a vehicle in an electric vehicle charging station provided on public or private property if the vehicle is not connected to the charging equipment. The parking infraction must be processed as prescribed under RCW 3.50.100, 35.20.220, 46.16A.120, and 46.20.270(3).
     (3) For purposes of this section, “electric vehicle charging station” means a public or private parking space that is served by charging equipment that has as its primary purpose the transfer of electric energy to a battery or other energy storage device in an electric vehicle.

The law in Washington State does help EV drivers by defining penalties for non-charging vehicles parking in EV charging stalls, but doesn’t address the issue of PHEVs and completely charged EVs taking up charger time. What’s your opinion- if you had one, would you object to your PHEV or fully charged EV being unplugged? Do you feel that non-EV drivers are being slighted by having prime parking spots reserved only for drivers of electric vehicles?

Author: Kevin Miller

As Autosavant’s resident Swedophile, Kevin has an acute affinity for Saabs, with a mild case of Volvo-itis as well. Aside from covering most Saab-related news for Autosavant, Kevin also reviews cars and covers industry news. His “Great Drive” series, with maps and directions included, is a reader favorite.

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