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Electric Car Charging Etiquette: Can I Unplug Your Car?

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As Elon Musk was preparing for his cross-US journey in the new Tesla Model S, he might have been advised also to weigh in on the importance of charging station etiquette, a new UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies study suggests. We all know how to pull into a line and sit in our cars waiting at a gasoline station, even if a car owner ahead of us goes into the convenience store for a drink, but what about at a charging station? Can we go into the store and ask an owner to unplug? How long is too long to keep your car attached if you cannot see if someone else is in line and might need the charger? A new social etiquette of charging is needed, researchers say, and an EV Emily Post has yet to emerge. Plugging in your car in a public station is a new behavior taking place in a social setting. US Davis ITS researchers Nicolette Caperello, Ken Kurani, and Jennifer TyreeHageman found that EV owners are unclear, “Even an available charger at an empty parking space can raise the question, ‘How long am I allowed to park and charge here?’ An occupied charger prompts questions too. ‘How long will they be there? Is that car fully charged? If it is, may I unplug it plug mine in?” the authors wrote in their paper “Do you mind if I Plug-in My Car? How Etiquette Shapes PEV Driver’s vehicle Charging Behavior.” The authors note that as systems emerge to charge for the electricity more rules and norms may emerge. One driver surveyed said she would prefer to be able to make a reservation for public charging time. Others have left notes on their windshields giving instructions on what time would be acceptable to unplug their car, should a new user drive up.

As the number of EV users expands, congestion at public charging stations is inevitable. Social acceptance of electric car technology is growing, with plug-in electric vehicles reaching record sales in August 2013, climbing to 11,363 for the month. That represents a 141% gain from the previous year.


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