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Charging An Electric Car In CA? Make Sure You’re Not Towed

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2011 Chevrolet Volt using Level 2 240-Volt charging station in Vacaville, California

2011 Chevrolet Volt using Level 2 240-Volt charging station in Vacaville, California

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On January 1, 2012, California Assembly Bill 475 came into effect in California.

Essentially, the new law makes it possible that your plug-in car could get towed if you haven’t locked your car to the charging station cord. 

Backed by general Motors, the bill’s advocates claimed it was necessary to make it possible for owners of plug-in hybrid cars like the 2012 Chevrolet Volt and 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid to legally charge their vehicles at public charging stations. 

But while the bill did away with previous legislation that restricted parking in certain electric car spaces to zero-emissions vehicles, it also made it illegal for any vehicle to park in an electric car charging space unless it was physically connected to the charger. 

Goodbye, Plug-Sharing

As electric car advocates tried to explain to the California Assembly without success, the new law would end the act of plug-sharing -- a common practice in certain areas of California where multiple electric cars would park next to a single charging station, sharing the available power as required. 

You Don’t Have To Charge: Just Be Connected

Scenes from dedication of electric-car charging station at Creekside Inn, Palo Alto, CA

Scenes from dedication of electric-car charging station at Creekside Inn, Palo Alto, CA

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Interestingly, AB 475 doesn’t necessitate that plug-in cars parked in charging spaces are actually charging: it just necessitates that they be connected physically to the charging station. 

In other words, it’s perfectly legal for someone to drive into a public charging space, connect their car, and leave it there for as long as they want -- even if the car stops charging. 

As opponents of the law have previously pointed out, AB 475 makes is harder for plug-in car drivers to make use of and share existing charging infrastructure.  

In fact, all it takes is one selfish electric car owner to prevent many other electric car owners from charging at all.

Your Car Could Be Towed If It Isn’t Locked To The Charging Station

The most risky outcome of AB 475, now written law in California, is the consequence of being parked in a charging space without being connected to an electric car charging station. 

Scenes from dedication of electric-car charging station at Creekside Inn, Palo Alto, CA

Scenes from dedication of electric-car charging station at Creekside Inn, Palo Alto, CA

Enlarge Photo

In short, if your car isn’t connected to a charging station, it will be towed. 

Worse still, if your car has no way to lock the charge cable to your vehicle, it could be disconnected from the charge station without your knowledge. In fact, anyone from a michevious passer-by or another electric car owner who is unaware of the new legislation could cause your car to get towed without you knowing about it.

For now then, the message is simple: If you need to use a public charging station in California that isn’t in a private parking lot, make sure you lock the charge cable to your car -- or risk having it towed. 

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Comments (2)
  1. This is indeed a bad law, but not to worry, the law states that a specifically worded sign of a specific size must be posted before the law is in effect for a given location. If the sign isn't there, or if the wording isn't exact, they may not tow you.

    See http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/11-12/bill/asm/ab_0451-0500/ab_475_bill_20110907_chaptered.pdf

    (d) The posting required for an offstreet parking facility owned or
    operated either privately or by a local authority shall consist of a sign not
    less than 17 by 22 inches in size with lettering not less than one inch in
    height that clearly and conspicuously states the following: “Unauthorized
    vehicles not connected for electric charging purposes will be towed away
    at owner’s expense.
     
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  2. This is an insane law that will most likely not be enforced unless there is an "obvious" case of a person sitting there for, say 24 hours or more. Besides, there are regular parking restrictions (3 hours, whatever) that apply generally.
     
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