Do you mind if I plug in my car? The etiquette of going electric

As children, we learn to wait in line, take our turn and share. As adults, we usually try to live by these basic rules. For today’s plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) drivers, however, the rules and norms for mundane chores such as recharging the car are not yet clear.

Plugging in a car is a new behavior that occurs in a new social setting. Forget the gas station: PEV owners depend on home chargers and away-from-home charging stations to fuel their cars. At home, who plugs in the car and when are easily decided. But away from home, UC Davis researchers say, PEV drivers are unsure of the rules and want charging guidelines that everyone understands and uses in order to feel confident and comfortable.

They want to approach a charging station knowing what to expect and what is expected of them.

In their paper, “Do You Mind if I Plug-in My Car? How Etiquette Shapes PEV Drivers’ Vehicle Charging Behavior,” researchers Nicolette Caperello, Ken Kurani and Jennifer TyreeHageman of the UC Davis Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center present the results of interviews with 29 PEV households in San Diego in spring 2012. The paper is published in the August 2013 issue of the journal Transportation Research Part A.

In the interviews, PEV drivers told researchers they were unsure of the etiquette of using an away-from-home charging station. The researchers wrote: “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 to plug mine in?’ ”

These research findings, which reflect early driver experiences when there were few PEVs on the road, become ever more important as PEV sales grow along with potential competition for charging stations. Nationwide, PEV sales set a record in August 2013, climbing to 11,363 for the month, a 141 percent gain from the same period a year ago, according to Hybridcars.com. California continues to lead the nation, accounting for roughly 33 percent of total PEV sales.

While is the most convenient place for most PEV drivers to charge, industry observers say away-from-home charging is necessary to grow the PEV market, and conventional wisdom has assumed that people will use public charging if it exists. Not necessarily, the researchers say. When PEV drivers do not know the charging etiquette, they may be less likely to charge away from home. Discomfort about social situations that may arise at a charger contributed to some PEV drivers not counting on away-from-home charging, the researchers found.

The paper also explores differences between charging in public places, such as retail parking lots, and charging at work. PEV drivers who charge at work encounter different rules, some created by the drivers themselves and others established by employers to maintain harmony.

As the market grows, new rules and regulations may create as much uncertainty as guidance, researchers state. Solutions, such as reservation systems and requiring PEV drivers to pay for access to charging, may address some concerns but are not themselves replacements for widely shared, understood and practiced charging etiquette.

Reference: Caperello, Nicolette, Kenneth S. Kurani, Jennifer TyreeHageman (2013) Do You Mind if I Plug-in My Car? How Etiquette Shapes PEV Drivers’ Vehicle Charging Behavior. Transportation Research Part A 54, 155-163

http://www.its.ucdavis.edu/?page_id=10063&pub_id=1943

Contributed by Jamie Knapp.

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