Safety and security at charging stations are a major concern for women

Jasmine Porter regularly travels for work in her Mustang Mach E, but like other women I interviewed for this story, she doesn’t feel safe at the EV chargers available on her commute.

According to an early 2022 Consumer Reports nationally representative survey of over 8,000 U.S. adults, of those who indicated charging considerations would hold them back from purchasing an EV, women were twice as likely as men to cite ‘concern about safety when I charge at a public charging station.’

Some of the most common places for EV charging today also happen to be the top locations in the U.S. for violent crimes, defined as homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and property crime (e.g., arson, burglary, larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft).

According to recent data from the FBI, in 2020, highways, alleys, streets, and sidewalks were the #2 location for violent crimes in the U.S., parking garages and parking lots were #3, convenience stores were #4, and gas stations were #7. Women comprised half those violent crime incidents in 2020 according to the same FBI source.

As we see a more distributed model for charging, I wonder if we will inadvertently expose more people to violent crime without implementing the proper safety precautions in and around EV charging stations.

Examples of women who have experienced safety issues at EV chargers

Personally, I’ve never had a negative experience while charging, but I am nervous about charging locations in rural areas with very little surrounding infrastructure. Compared to a well-lit gas station that has staff on-site and quick access to emergency services, unless the charger is co-located with some other infrastructure, I don’t feel as safe.

Sarah Fischer, an EV advocate, doesn’t feel secure using the public charger a few blocks from her apartment for her Chevy Volt at night because the parking lot has “zero lighting”. Though she has never experienced a specific incident, she usually has her roommate drive her to and from the charger after dark, which requires additional logistics.

Jasmine Porter works in the real estate industry and regularly travels to Houston and Dallas, Texas for work. Access to DC fast chargers for her Ford Mustang Mach E are essential for her commute, but the only convenient option in Houston is at the back of a Walmart store downtown. The DC fast chargers are located in the parking lot furthest from the building in a section of town known for criminal activity. She has a similar issue with the chargers in Dallas. At the time of our interview, though she had never experienced a specific incident, she had decided to get a concealed handgun license to feel safer while charging.

In a prior EV Love article, I provided an example of on-site security concerns at a Tesla Supercharger station when bullies “ICEed” a charger with their big truck. ICEing is blocking an EV charger with a regular car, almost always out intentional malice. When Tesla drivers asked them to move, the situation devolved, and one of the EV drivers, Molly Bauch, was struck in the face while attempting to record the situation.

One woman’s experience in the U.K. launched a charger safety rating company

Kate Tyrrell had a particularly difficult time locating a charger late at night during one of her work trips. The experience left her shaking in fear at a broken charger, located in a dark and deserted parking lot.

While she didn’t experience a specific incident that evening, Kate was determined to impact positive change to the public charge infrastructure globally, and founded EV Chargesafe.

Kate’s business aims to encourage EV adoption by creating a safer and more inclusive charge experience for everyone. She developed a 5-star rating system for public chargers, which examines the lighting, security, and chargepoint environment on behalf of her clients. The safety and accessibility ratings are distributed through her online platform to mapping services, chargepoint network operators, and invested parties. She believes that her independent source of unbiased information can provide the necessary data to influence change and ensure accountability. You can watch a great feature of Kate and her business on this YouTube Video.

Security should be taken more seriously in public charging funding programs

As the U.S. deploys $5 billion in public charging infrastructure through the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Act, it is important for us to think about what attributes would make female drivers feel more secure.

Unfortunately, the current NEVI guidelines don’t include much guidance on consumer safety. While the document does describe some safety parameters, such as adequate lighting, most of the safety related topics focus on technician safety training, fire safety, and traffic safety. The Federal Highway Administration minimum standards document also addresses consumers’ physical safety, but only mentions “lighting, siting, driver and vehicle safety, fire prevention, tampering, charger locks, and illegal surveillance of payment devices.”

More specific plans and requirements for on-site security should be addressed and incorporated into technical guidelines using strategies and technologies that are proven to work – starting from site selection to ongoing maintenance and monitoring.

Suggestions for improving charger security for consumers

Chargesafe has a 70-point inspection that accounts for personal safety and accessibility. The inspection addresses parameters such as lighting, security cameras, visibility to passing traffic and general busy-ness of the area, payment ease, customer service, operations and maintenance, and number of units at a location.

It would be great to see a comparable safety scoring system in the U.S. that could be used for site selection and/or consumer awareness. Other parameters for assessment could include things like prior criminal activity at a location, proximity to emergency services, and proximity to other infrastructure (i.e., is there a place a person can quickly go to for support).

In addition to scoring, charging networks should consider adding easy-to-see emergency contact numbers on, or around, the charging pedestal, such as the local police station or on-premise security guards.

Finally, the government should consider creating a minimum threshold consumer safety score, verified by a third-party, as part of any funding program and require additional safety measures that will increase the score to the threshold score where necessary.

Unless we address charger security concerns, women will not buy EVs

Charger security should be as much of a priority for the EV charging industry as reliability and interoperability. People shouldn’t feel like they need to own a handgun to safely operate an electric vehicle. Unless we address the real – or perceived – safety issues of EV charging stations, we may never achieve widespread EV adoption.

Source: Consumer Reports nationally representative survey of 8,027 U.S. adults conducted January 27 to February 18, 2022. https://advocacy.consumerreports.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/2022-Battery-Electric-Vehicles_by-gender-1.pdf

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