Electric vehicles and local authorities

Transport is the single largest contributor to UK carbon dioxide emissions. As part of the UK Government’s strategy to tackle transport emissions, there will be a ban on new petrol and diesel engine cars and vans from 2030, with hybrids to be outlawed by 2035.

Delivering the vision for zero emissions

To encourage the uptake of electric vehicles (EV), the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles created the On-street Residential Charge Point Scheme (ORCS), to increase the availability of on-street charge points in residential streets, where off-street parking is not available. The vision is for the UK to have one of the best infrastructure networks in the world, providing a network that is affordable, reliable, accessible and secure.

Considerations and costs for local authorities

Ultimately, the costs burden of carrying out this vision is placed on local authorities. For 2021/2022, £20 million has been made available for local authorities who can submit applications for part funding, up to 75% of the capital costs of procuring and installing the charge point and a dedicated parking bay. The remainder of the capital costs will need to be borne by the authority.

Therefore, a local authority considering making an application will need to bear in mind the likely uptake, balanced against the cost, which is difficult to predict given the limited data available in respect of future demand.

Type and location of charging points

There are many emerging charging solutions available, including: free standing charging units, lamp post charging, wireless kerbside charging, pop-up chargers, concealed in payment sockets, cable gulley and connected kerbs. The location of charge points will need to be well-thought-out in order to minimise the risk of trailing cables posing a tripping hazard.

The ORCS is primarily focused on the installation of charge points in on-street locations, but applications will be considered for local authority owned car parks situated close to residential areas. This scheme does not apply to privately owned charge points.

Risks and potential claims

Highway authority and street charging

In the UK, a specific electric vehicle policy isn’t required to cover an EV. However, some insurers have developed bespoke EV insurance policies, to include risks associated with charging cables, although the coverage of the cables will vary from policy to policy.

For drivers with street parking only, the ORCS allows EV owners to ask their local authority to install charging devices. However, charging an EV is not ideal for those with no off street parking. Many vehicle owners will need to run a cable across a footpath, which raises the question of who will be liable if a pedestrian trips and falls over the cable?

Where vehicles are being charged in a public place, owners must ensure they are not creating a hazard to the public. Whilst a claim is likely to be brought against the vehicle owner for injury caused by tripping, it may be that the local authority is pursued, as highway authority, in the hope of a better chance of recovery.

Section 178 of the Highways Act 1980 prohibits a person from placing or running a cable or wire over, along or across a public highway, without consent of the local authority.

The Highway Code provides further guidance including:

  • Parking close to the charge point and avoid creating a trip hazard for people walking from trailing cables.
  • Displaying a warning sign.
  • Returning charging cables and connectors neatly to minimise the danger to other people and avoid creating an obstacle for other road users.

Although the Highways Act does not place a duty on the authority to ensure/monitor the safe use of charging points, it is foreseeable that a claim may be intimated in negligence. By installing street charging points, claimants may allege that local authorities are on notice that trailing cables could present a hazard.

To guard against this risk, some local authorities are recommending that charging cables should only cross the footpath when the vehicle is plugged in. Many are also recommending the installation of low-cost cable protectors, which are commonly used on building sites. Other local authorities are advising against running cables across the pavement altogether.

Interestingly, a company in Holland has developed a new overhead charging arm called ChargeArm which raises the charging cable up, allowing continued use of the footpath without obstruction. At present, it is unclear whether a similar approach will be introduced in the UK.

Local authority car parks

In urban areas it is preferable, where practical, for charging points to be installed in existing local authority car parks, rather than street charging. This will enable cars to be charged without cables being trailed up and down the pavement.

If a tripping accident occurs, resulting in injury, a claim could potentially be pursued against the local authority in negligence or under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957. Issues will arise as to the extent of the local authority’s control over the use of the charging unit, its installation and any warning signs.

Practicalities of managing the charging points

Local authorities should implement an inspection system of local authority managed charging points to ensure they are in good working order and to check for any damage through wear and tear or vandalism/theft.

With regard to funding, the responsibility for ongoing maintenance costs and inspections will fall to the local authority. Unexpected costs may include replacement if the charge point is damaged or vandalised.

Comment

Whilst guidance has been provided to local authorities about the practicalities and funding for the installation of electric charging points and the commitment to the net zero strategy, the government is yet to address the impact on local authorities in managing this additional feature within their networks.

There are likely to be a wide range of emerging risks that will become more prevalent in the months and years ahead, as we see the inevitable increase of electric vehicles on our roads.

Read other items in the Personal Injury Brief - March 2022