The Psychology of Electric Car Range Anxiety: Conclusion


Stephanie Lay

Stephanie Lay is a post-graduate psychology researcher at the Open University. She doesn’t drive but has had the pleasure of being a passenger in the Magic Flying Leaf for the last three years. She works full-time for the Open University and studies part-time working on a thesis about the uncanny valley phenomenon: she spends most of her free time studying near-human faces and researching why they can be unsettling and creepy. Her research page can be found at the Uncanny Valley Open University siteShe gives us a psychological look at range anxiety. She has already talked about her personal experiencesthe human factor and the car’s role. Today she gives us her conclusion.

What are your opinions of range anxiety?

What are your opinions of range anxiety?

The evidence suggests that range anxiety will remain a concern for the driver for as long as there is a mismatch between the desire or expectation to travel long distances and the ability of EVs to do so. As the current benchmark for drivers is comparing their EV to the range of a conventionally fuelled vehicle, it may be inevitable that a smaller range is seen as a ‘loss’ where the only option for framing range is as neutral or negative.

Range anxiety appears to be a genuine issue, so where does the responsibility for tackling it lie? Improved methods of communicating information about remaining range would help alleviate range anxiety, but changes in this area are likely to be incremental rather than revolutionary. Input from cognitive psychologists in designing interfaces to make the best use of the limited attention available to a driver would be valuable in creating systems that are truly useful to in alleviating anxiety.

On a very basic level, manufacturers should be responsible for to giving realistic estimates to potential buyers: they have a legal obligation to do this, of course, but helping buyers to understand what might be a realistic range for them would also mean new EV drivers were more likely to be satisfied with their purchase and translate to long-term EV enthusiasts and advocates.

Franke’s 2013 study emphasised how prior knowledge was positively related to competent range and suggested that buyers should be given enough background information when considering their purchase to allow them to self-regulate their driving behaviour and get the most out of their new vehicle. They also found that there was a positive effect of daily practice on comfortable range and competent range, so actively promoting regular EV driving practice via user instructions and feedback may help drivers to expand their comfortable range zone and achieve maximum performance.

Are you a suitable EV owner? Maybe tests need to be devised to help you decide?

Are you a suitable EV owner? Maybe tests need to be devised to help you decide?

One final area for consideration may be whether it is desirable to design an ‘EV suitability’ personality test for potential buyers. This would certainly be possible: according to Franke’s findings, personality attributes such as impulsivity, tolerance of ambiguity and locus of control could be used to define a measure indicating the type of additional support that could be needed for an individual in achieving the highest comfortable range possible.

All things considered, this is still a new field and after researching the studies detailed above, I’m now interested in various routes for further research: a very recent study by Nicolette Caperello, Jennifer Hageman and Kenneth Kurani found that there were distinct male and female driving patterns when using EVs. Gender differences in driving behaviours have been well observed in the conventional literature but this has not been studied in detail in the EV realm to date and Caparello et al have proposed a fascinating area for further enquiry.

Open for comments

Having considered current evidence in this area, this is an ‘over to you’ moment – please use the comments and let me know whether you feel that the academic studies are correct and range anxiety is a valid phenomenon, and if so, do the explanations resonate with you? Alternatively, do you think that advances in battery technology will soon relegate range anxiety to the status of a vanishing issue? I.e. Eventually everyone will either be able to afford a Tesla or the other manufacturers will find a way to achieve a 200+ EV and range anxiety will cease to exist…

Are we worrying too much about people worrying too much about how far they can go?

Five tips to alleviate range anxiety: heuristic suggestions grounded in psychological research

Make peace with range anxiety, and learn to love trip planning.

Make peace with range anxiety, and learn to love trip planning.

  1. Rein back your impulsivity.
  2. Learn to love planning.
  3. Are you highly conscientious and do you have a strong concern for others? You’ll be fine.
  4. Stick with it. Range anxiety seems to decrease over time.
  5. Learn to be happy with ambiguity: have you done five impossible things before breakfast? Well done! You’re well set up for your electric commute!

Bibliography for all posts

  • Bunzeck, I., Feenstra, C. F. J., & Paukovic, M. (2011). Preferences of potential users of electric cars related to charging – a survey in 8 EU countries (pp. 1–37).
  • Caperello, N. (2014). Engendering the Future of Electric Vehicles: Conversations with Men and Women. Institute of Transport Studies, University of California (pp. 1–18).
  • Egbue, O., & Long, S. (2012). Barriers to widespread adoption of electric vehicles: an analysis of consumer attitudes and perceptions. Energy Policy, 48(C), 717–729. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2012.06.009
  • Franke, T., & Krems, J. F. (2013a). Interacting with limited mobility resources: Psychological range levels in electric vehicle use. Transportation Research Part A, 48(C), 109–122. doi:10.1016/j.tra.2012.10.010
  • Franke, T., & Krems, J. F. (2013b). What drives range preferences in electric vehicle users? Transport Policy, 30(C), 56–62. doi:10.1016/j.tranpol.2013.07.005
  • Franke, T., Neumann, I., Bühler, F., Cocron, P., & Krems, J. F. (2011). Experiencing Range in an Electric Vehicle: Understanding Psychological Barriers. Applied Psychology, 61(3), 368–391. doi:10.1111/j.1464-0597.2011.00474.x
  • Skippon, S., & Garwood, M. (2011). Responses to battery electric vehicles: UK consumer attitudes and attributions of symbolic meaning following direct experience to reduce psychological distance. Transportation Research Part D, 16(7), 525–531. doi:10.1016/j.trd.2011.05.005

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  • Jeffery Lay

    I love seeing articles with proper links and references. It might seem a bit heavy going, but it shows that this is a well-researched article with real evidence, not just an opinion piece, and therefore that it – and the publication in which it appears – is more concerned with discovering truths and learning from them than in mere PR or advertising.nn(In the interests of full disclosure: I’m married to the guest writer of this series of articles, and I’m rather proud of that. But I’d say the same regardless.)

  • Richard Glover

    hello the LaysnI will keep on claiming it, for “range anxiety” read “price anxiety”.n17,000 miles per annum says range anxiety doesn’t exist (until I miss my turning on the M25).nAfter about 6 months of ownership I realised that my expectations of everybody following my example of Leaf driving was not happening and starting stating “well it is early days yet for electric vehicles” when telling of my car.nNow I am convinced that it is all about the list price. Get that right and ev will sell like hot cakes. We will then use them and accept their limitations as we do all things in life.nAt the moment they are great for fairly high mileage/shortish trip users like me.nAnd if I am anxious I’ll turn up the volume of radio 3.

    • Jeffery Lay

      You’ve repeated an identical comment on each part of this article, but that doesn’t make it more true!nnYour point that price is also a factor is undeniable, but it’s a separate issue from range anxiety. The purpose of these articles was to show evidence that range anxiety has a documented basis in fact, and then investigate the issues by reviewing the scientific research. It’s not particularly useful to deny the existence of the problem based on one person’s anecdotal evidence.nnYour statement that “17,000 miles per annum says range anxiety doesn’t exist” doesn’t seem to make sense, unless you mean that you’ve travelled that distance, and have not personally been anxious. If that’s what you mean, it may be that you personally do not suffer from range anxiety, in which case good for you! The research shows, however, that many other people do find it a problem, and this article tries to find constructive advice and ways four both drivers and manufacturers to make progress .

  • Steven Barrett

    I go all over the place in my Leaf, no worries as I plan my drives and then I drive to my plan. If the price of EV’s was reduced then maybe the kids could have them and learn to drive responsibly as the Leaf is geared up physiologically to drive in a conservative manner. If petrol stations were reduced in number would ICE drivers suffer from range anxiety ??. Just roll out more charging stations and away we go !

  • David Galvan

    1. I suspect MOST people are well suited to EV driving in terms of actual driving needs, though they may not be well-suited psychologically. I like your “5 tips”. The “learn to like planning” one rings especially true. Every time I consider going somewhere more than 30 miles away by freeway, I have to give a little thought to my Nissan Leaf’s range. (60 miles round-trip without stopping to charge is pushing it at typical L.A. freeway speeds of 70mph). But I don’t really get anxiety because my personality is pre-disposed to planning. nnAn example of the “planning” that I’ll go through on a given weekend:nnOh, we’re going to our friend’s house 32 miles away for dinner? Well I’ll chip in a little extra to cover our dinner costs and ask him if its ok to plug in my car in his garage. Backup plan: spend 10 minutes at the Quickcharger a couple miles from his house.nnnIt’s really not that big of a deal. The infrastructure is growing, and the future of much greener and more efficient transportation is totally worth the very minimal range anxiety that comes with it at this stage.nnnIn other words: range anxiety is over-blown. Yes it’s a real issue in terms of people worrying about it and that worry inhibiting them from buying an EV, but once you have an EV you learn that it is nowhere near as big a problem as you imagined it might be.nn2. In any event, I predict range anxiety will be a short-lived phenomenon. Tesla, Chevy, and Nissan have all announced 150+ mile BEVs within 2 years (i.e., late 2016 early 2017). If it were one car company making the claim, I’d take it with a grain of salt. But three means they will be competing with one another, and that provides added incentive for each of them to really make it happen.