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

Majority of public EV charging locations lack basic safety features research finds 

Sarah Tooze

Written by

Sarah Tooze

Rear view of red Nissan Leaf parking in a public car park at night
  • 87% of a sample of the UK’s public electric vehicle (EV) charging locations have poor lighting
  • 77% don’t have security cameras
  • heycar continues to call for Government action to address consumers’ safety concerns

Following a successful campaign launch last year, we're continuing our work to highlight grave safety concerns at public electric car charging points as new research reveals the shocking state of the UK’s current infrastructure. 

The campaign’s end goal is clear - for the Government to urgently introduce minimum personal safety standards at public electric car charge points to protect vulnerable road users.

Nearly nine-in-ten (87%) of a sample of 817 UK public electric car charging locations don’t have a dedicated light over the charge point and 77% don’t have a security camera covering the charge point, according to our campaign partner, ChargeSafe, an independent five-star rating system.

Sarah Tooze, Consumer Editor, says: “These findings from our campaign partner ChargeSafe are disappointing but not surprising given that EV drivers themselves, particularly women, have told us how unsafe they feel using public EV charging points. While there are network operators taking safety issues seriously, this research shows how much more work needs to be done.”

Kate Tyrrell, Co-Founder of ChargeSafe, adds: “It is critical to user safety that a charge point has a dedicated light over it and that the lights are bright and it is easy to identify the charge point from a distance. Being visible to road users and other EV charge point users provides extra comfort to those charging at nightime, usually in unfamiliar surroundings and away from home, while the protection of security cameras is key to deter potential attackers or vandals.”

Network operators recognise need to address safety 

Pod Point, the UK’s third biggest charge point network provider, has acknowledged the importance of making public charging locations safer.

James McKemey, Head of Policy & Public Affairs at Pod Point, says: “We want to provide an accessible, safe EV charging experience for everyone. heycar’s call for the introduction of minimum personal safety standards can help to improve these critical areas of the charging experience. Key to those standards is understanding from electric vehicle drivers what makes them feel safe at a charge point, and we would encourage drivers to participate in the research heycar is conducting on this.”

Rapid electric vehicle charging network Osprey Charging told heycar that safety is “core” to its business.

Ian Johnston, CEO, Osprey Charging Network, says: “The creation of safe, well-lit spaces with multiple charge points at busy sites has always been core to Osprey’s ambition to build and run the UK’s highest quality EV charging network. These are the places drivers will want to charge and return to. We therefore support the prioritisation of safety across the charging industry by the creation of minimum standards, and look forward to consulting on what form these standards should take to be both effective and practical for charge point operators and host landlords to implement.” 

Fastned, which is building a European network of fast charging stations, including in the UK, says: "EV drivers deserve to be able to charge safely – all too often the EV charging point is tucked away in a dark corner of a supermarket car park, petrol forecourt or side street. Assuring customers on safety will be crucial to the transition away from petrol and diesel vehicles.

“That’s why at Fastned, we are building highly visible, well-lit stations with 24/7 CCTV cameras to provide a safe, accessible and comfortable charging experience for all drivers."

Support for kitemark for best safety standards 

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

Emma Loveday, Senior Fleet Consultant at VWFS UK, says: "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.”

The campaign follows a survey of 500 drivers at HonestJohn.co.uk 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.

Share your electric car charging experience

What experiences have you had using public electric car charging stations? Tell us here and help inform our EV charging safety campaign. 

Red Nissan Leaf plugged in charging by a lamppost in a dimly lit car park

Keele University research reveals women’s safety concerns

New research from Keele University illustrates the concerns of women when using public electric car 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, says: “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.”

heycar's Sarah adds: “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 point locations. With so many different stakeholders Government intervention is needed to ensure standards are set.” 

Woman holding an EV charging cable in one hand while she looks at payment screen

Female EV driver's frightening public charging experience 

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. 

Sarah Harrison

Female EV driver wouldn’t have switched to electric if she had to rely on public EV charging

EV driver Sarah Harrison, from Lincolnshire, says she would not have switched from a petrol car to a Nissan Leaf if she didn’t have the ability to charge safely at home. 

On the occasions when she has had to use public EV charging locations she has found them to be at the back of car parks “like it’s a secondary thought” and it can be “hit or miss” whether the chargers are in use or broken. 

“Even if you plan your journey carefully you can still end up in ‘dodgy’ areas as the supporting infrastructure just isn’t there,” Sarah says. 

One charging location that sticks in her mind is the car park of a private health care company. 

“It was quite isolated, the chargers were behind lots of foliage. It wasn’t very well lit and even though it wasn’t at night it was dark and dingy,” Sarah says. “They had two chargers there and one of them was broken and the other was in use. 

“Eventually I did manage to use the charger but it was a lot slower than it was supposed to be, which meant staying there for a long time. I would have been additionally worried if I’d been there at night.” 

Sarah believes that security cameras, good lighting and an emergency contact button should be “part and parcel” of the essential infrastructure that needs to be in place to increase EV take-up nationally. 

“It would also be good if a charging point had a What3Words address displayed on it as often chargers are in hard to describe areas,” she says. “Having the What3Words address would mean you could quickly tell the emergency services where you were.”

Sarah adds: “I love driving an EV, especially knowing that it’s not kicking out dirty air and I am reducing my carbon footprint - every single one of us needs to make a life change to mitigate the impacts of climate change and I think more people need to try to make the move [to EV]. 

“But I am lucky in that most of my use is local and within the range of my car so I can safely charge at home most of the time. 

“If circumstances were different and I knew that I would need to charge elsewhere frequently I genuinely feel I would not have opted for an EV until better safety measures are put in place.”  

What does a good EV charging location look like?

GRIDSERVE's Electric Forecourt in Braintree, Essex is an example of a charging station with good safety and security features. It is well-lit with 24/7 surveillance and has rapid chargers, accessible charging bays, contactless payment and a number of shops and facilities.

GRIDSERVE Braintree Electric Forecourt

Share your electric car charging experience

What experiences have you had using public electric car charging stations? Tell us here and help inform our EV charging safety campaign.