The pandemic and ongoing semiconductor shortage produced a year-on-year decline in the registration of fleet and new business cars in 2021. It was, however, a record-breaking year for electric vehicles (EVs), with 2021 seeing more registrations than in the period 2015-2020.
With more EVs on the road, and now threatening to overtake sales of gas-powered vehicles in the near future, there is more choice than ever for companies wishing to transition to cleaner, greener and more sustainable transport for their employees.
Using electricity, a renewable energy source, rather than non-renewable gas and diesel has numerous social and environmental advantages. But the powerful voltages needed to charge and operate these vehicles present hazards that must be managed to avoid loss, damage, and injury to their users.
An exacerbating factor is a current lack of infrastructure to support this nascent technology. While the number of public charging stations is increasing in cities around the world, many people opt for home chargers based on their convenience and cost-savings – both presenting their own risk challenges.
In this guide, we’ll look at 5 common risks presented by EVs and their charging stations, and the practical measures users can use to reduce them.
1. Electric shocks
Whether at home or a public station, the high voltages needed to charge electric vehicles – an AC charger requires 110-240V – leave users vulnerable when charging their vehicles when plugging, unplugging, and handling cables.
Damage to cables and charging equipment, such as wiring and plug damage due to wear and tear, cable chaffing, dragging and weather conditions, can all increase the existing risk of electric shock. Public charging stations are additionally vulnerable to copper theft and vandalism, leaving wiring exposed to cause injury or even death
Reducing the risk
Basic maintenance of cable insulation, plugs, and wiring can all significantly reduce the risk of electric shock at charging stations. Regularly check all components of your charging equipment before activating the charger or plugging it into your vehicle.
Electric shocks do happen, but to reduce the severity of injury, we recommend learning about what to do in an emergency if someone receives a high-voltage electric shock. Other basic electrical safety measures, such as wearing rubber soled shoes will also reduce your risk of injury.
At public charging stations, any accident or damage to equipment witnessed or made by yourself should be immediately reported to a member of staff to protect you and those around you.
2. High-voltage fires related to lithium-ion batteries
The lithium-ion batteries that are responsible for powering all electric vehicles on the road are a relatively new technology. Designed to be as lightweight as possible while having high energy storage capacity, they are liable to damage through overheating or when subjected to high temperatures through a thermal runaway reaction.
In any car, short circuiting can start a fire, but the flammable electrolyte liquid contained by lithium-ion batteries can cause a spontaneous high-voltage fireball event, burning at extremely high temperatures and releasing large amounts of toxic gases.
Additionally, the intensity of the fire combined with the little experience rescue teams have with EVs, means that these blazes can take days and tens of thousands of gallons of water to extinguish – posing a continuous threat to people, property, and the environment.
Reducing the risk
Reducing damage to your lithium-ion battery will significantly reduce the chance of fire. Avoid keeping batteries in hot vehicles, overcharging, and fast charging with DC, as these can all destabilise the battery and increase the risk of explosion.
A shutdown separator separates the two unstable parts of the battery while it charges. While not eliminating the risk of fire, they can be used as an additional layer of protection for the built-in shutdown mechanisms in lithium-ion batteries.
Regularly monitoring your cooling system, whether fluid or air, and ensuring it’s well-maintained will help to keep temperatures down both when driving and charging and reduce the risk of explosion or fire.
3. Tripping on charging cables
The cables used for electric vehicles are larger and more visible than typical electric cables, but still present a considerable trip hazard. Public charging stations are often busy due to their short supply, and susceptible to bad planning, low lighting especially at night and plenty of people rushing around.
Home charging offers other challenges, such as poor positioning of the charging station, requiring cables to be laid across pavements or to hang dangerously mid-air where they can cause serious injury through trips and falls and damage to the EV and charging apparatus.
Reducing the risk
To avoid coiling and twisting of cables that can catch a foot or leg to cause a fall, don’t use cables that are longer than necessary. Park your car as close as possible to the charging station to reduce the distance travelled by the cable and avoid laying it across streets and pavements.
If it is necessary to run your cable across a walk- or carriageway, invest in a cable protector that allows people to talk over the cable lying flat, as well as protecting it from damage and increased risk of fire or electric shock.
If opting for a personal home charger, take time to carefully consider the best position of the charging station from a trip hazard perspective before installation.
4. Cyber attacks
EVs often rely on data, software, and sensors, including artificial intelligence to coordinate operation systems, facilitate and enhance the driving experience. This connectivity comes the cybersecurity dangers faced by other devices, from malign actors and malicious attacks, hacking, data compromise, and system outages.
Charging your EV at a public station where your vehicle is plugged into a grid increases your vulnerability to these attacks. Hackers can threaten human life by turning off lights, cutting brakes, and overriding steering capabilities. Your personal privacy can also be jeopardised if your ID badge is duplicated and used to make transactions or compromise your account in EV-associated mobile apps.
Reducing the risk
By building in protection mechanisms, you can protect your EV from cybersecurity hazards. Using a VPN for your vehicle is an effective way to hide the IP address associated with your EV and provide protection for your online activities, such as updating your onboarding software. Using a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) for your car’s Wi-Fi and browsing capabilities can also protect against malware, scams and filter search content.
While it may offer convenience linking your phone or other mobile devices to your EV, it’s worth considering the security of each individual device before connecting them, as they offer potential routes for bad actors to compromise your systems.
Other tried and true tech hygiene such as using strong passwords, requiring two-step authentication and digital signatures where your devices allow will also help.
5. Collisions with pedestrians and vehicles
It’s widely known that EVs are much quieter than gas-powered cars. Without the noise of the engine, they can be difficult to hear and cause collisions with vulnerable road users, such as cyclists, and pedestrians – especially those with impaired sight and/or hearing.
At busy public charging stations, as both a pedestrian and a driver, EV users are subject to higher risk of collision, with the potential to cause significant injury, damage, and loss.
Reducing the risk
To tackle the incidence of EV collisions with pedestrians, in 2019 the EU introduced the Regulation on the Sound Level of Motor Vehicles. It became a legal requirement for all new electric vehicles to be fitted with an Acoustic Vehicle Alert System (AVAS) that replicates the sound of a typical gas-powered engine and makes it easier to hear EVs. If your EV dates to pre-2019, investing in a noise emitting AVAS will help make your vehicle easier to notice and less likely to cause injury.
Basic safety measures taken at public charging stations also reduce your risk of collision with pedestrians and other vehicles. Adhering to signs, traffic flow instructions, and speed restrictions will also protect your liability from a third-party claim if an accident does occur.