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Why the electric car industry needs a standardised approach to safety

The Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 came into force in July of the same year in the UK as one of the first attempts to enshrine the requirements for autonomous vehicles, and electric vehicle charging, into law.

Although Part 1 of the Act, ‘Protection From Damages for Autonomous Vehicle Maker’, Part 2 of the Act – ‘Electric Vehicle Charging’ – has yet to have any regulations defined, and so the exact terms remain hypothetical.

Electric cars are becoming more commonplace, and with them a charging network that will start to appear on our streets and in our shopping centres. At the moment, the sheer volume of different charging operators is a source of frustration for drivers, with the majority in agreement that all providers should be required to use a common access system.

No existing regulations governing performance and maintenance also allows charging operators to adopt a laissez-faire attitude to maintenance schedules, and what kind of charging and connectors and leads are available in different locations.

All of this has resulted in the general feeling that home charging electric cars is the most convenient way to keep vehicles topped up. However, with no legally defined single standard in chargers, what needs to be done to keep homes and vehicles safe?

As with any electrical appliance, those charging vehicles overnight must take some precautions.

In 2017, a new electric car in England was completely destroyed when an electrical fault caused it to catch fire while charging overnight. Many electric vehicles are powered by lithium-ion batteries – which can sometimes explode and catch fire when overheated.

There have been several recall instances involving EV chargers and fire risks – including three leading car manufacturers recalling thousands of chargers in 2018.

According to guidance, “most electric cars can be charged at home using a standard three-pin domestic plug socket. A new EV will be supplied with a standard EVSE (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment) charging cable, allowing you to charge anywhere you can find a mains socket.”

While the supplied ESVE cable will be safe while actually charging, the general guidelines also advise an EV charging wallbox be fitted by a professional. A wallbox is safer and quicker than using a domestic plug socket, as it communicates directly with the car, with charging time reduced by 30-60%, depending on the vehicle.

Further to this, drivers are advised not to use any household adaptor (such as a multi-box, double plug or a travel plug) between the EVSE and a socket outlet.

At the moment, fires due to overheating batteries are rare – although as more EVs arrive on our roads, this may increase. The law must be established and a standardised approach to safety agreed to avoid any potential disasters.

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