Fancy Warcharging Your Electric Car? Check First, Or You Could End Up In Jail

If you’ve driven an electric car for any length of time the chances are you’ve become pretty adept at spotting both official public charging stations for electric cars, along with the odd unattended household outlet in an unusual yet readily accessible place. The kind of place that you might, you know, be able to plug your electric car’s portable charging unit into if you were running a little low on range… and you really needed a charge.

Of course, it’s always good practice to try and check with the owner of the outlet first to see if it’s okay to charge, but it isn’t always possible or practical to do so. Just like warchalking — which involves identifying and using using someone’s open WiFi network to access the Internet without their explicit permission — warcharging (using someone’s outlet to charge your electric car without their permission) can land you in jail.

But as an Atlantan Nissan LEAF driver found out recently, assuming it’s okay to plug-in could land you in a lot of trouble.

Enter LEAF driver Kaveh Kamooneh from Atlanta, Georgia, who was arrested by the local police department for stealing electricity from the Chamblee Middle School, where is 11-year-old son was playing tennis.

As 11Alive reports, Kamooneh was waiting for his son to finish his Tennis early one Saturday morning in November, and with no-one from the school around to ask permission from, Kamooneh did what many of us would do in that situation: threw caution to the wind and plugged in, figuring the school wouldn’t mind the few cents of electricity his car would consume.

But having charged for just twenty minutes from the 110-volt outlet — enough to maybe extend his car’s range by two or three miles at best — Kamooneh was approached by a local officer from the Chamblee police, who filed a police report against him for theft.

Eleven days later, at eight o’clock at night, two deputies arrived at Kamooneh’s house and arrested him. Kamooneh was then photographed and detained for fifteen hours in the DeKalb County jail.

“I’m not sure how much electricity he stole,” said Sergeant Ernesto Ford of the Chamblee police. When asked if the treatment of Kamooneh was a little severe, Ford was unapologetic.  “He broke the law. He stole something that wasn’t his,” adding that “A theft is a theft,” and that he would make the same arrest again, if required.

It’s estimated that Mamooneh’s car consumed just five cents of electricity during the twenty minutes it was plugged in, yet his harsh treatment at the hands of the local police department befit someone who had used far more.

“He said he was going to charge me with theft by taking because I was taking power, electricity from the school,” Kamooneh said. “I invited him to arrest people who were drinking water from the spigot, but he refused.”

Would you spend 15 hours in jail for plugging your EV in?

Would you spend 15 hours in jail for plugging your EV in?

As 11Alive’s anchors point out, it’s not uncommon these days to see cellphone and laptop power supplies plugged into wall outlets in public buildings. And we’d guess that most of our readers have at some point snuck some electricity to help a dying laptop battery, make an important phone call or just keep their children from going stir-crazy on a long family trip. Yet we’ve never heard of anyone being arrested for stealing electricity to charge their cellphone.

“There’s a culture, a very young culture developing around electric cars,” Kammoneh said.  “I think most people assume it’s okay, especially in a commercial location like a shopping mall or a hotel and you need to charge. With cellphones it’s well worked out: nobody thinks a police officer will arrest them for charging their phone.”

Interestingly, the DeKalb Schools district has not responded to any media questions surrounding the incident, indicating a tacit approval of the local police department’s actions. While Kammoneh admits he should have sought permissions to plug in first however, we think the whole matter could have been dealt with very simply had the attending officer been a little less eager to arrest Kammoneh: a nickel donation.

Here at Transport Evolved we’re more than a little shocked at how this story unfolded. Yes, Kammoneh could — and probably should have asked for permission before plugging in — but the notion of crime vs punishment seems a little off-balance.

After all, electricity isn’t exactly expensive, and if you’re going to charge one person with theft for plugging in their electric car, surely you need to charge every other person who uses public outlets for their own needs, right?

We think this story is one which will rumble on for a while, but for now, here’s our official advice on charging your car from anything but an officially-designated charging station.

1) Take time to find someone in charge, and ask their permission to plug in before you do so. Tell them why you need to charge, and offer to take them for a spin.

2)Explain how little electricity it uses (showing them your car’s consumption meter might work here) and offer to reimburse them in full for the electricity you’re using. If you’re somewhere like a store or restaurant, make sure you tip well.

3)Make sure your car is parked safely, isn’t violating any parking restrictions, and any extension chords or leads are carefully placed out of the way. If your car is parked in an unusual manner and has cables posing a trip-hazard to everyone else, the chances are someone will make a complaint. If the cables are stored neatly and safely, most people won’t even notice you’re plugged in.

4)Leave a note in your car’s window with your contact details on in case someone needs to move the car, or wants more information about why you’re there. And be sure to take the name of the person who gave you permission to plug in.

5)After you’ve charged, write a letter or email thanking the location for providing you with charging. Explain what a valued service you were given, and explain the benefits to them and their business/building to installing an official charging station. Next time you visit you might be surprised to find a public charging station alongside that outlet!

Have you had trouble charging in a public location? Would you have asked first, or just plugged in? And what do you think the police should have done? Leave your thoughts — and tips for public charging — in the Comments below.


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