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Erica Munro: Range anxiety is only the beginning of potential electric car pitfalls

At the moment, a typical electric car can travel between 100 and 200 miles on a single charge (Photo: Moritz Denke/Shutterstock)
At the moment, a typical electric car can travel between 100 and 200 miles on a single charge (Photo: Moritz Denke/Shutterstock)

Buying an all-electric car has given us more than financial benefits.

There’s also the low-key smugness of that green stripe on the number plate, marking us out as woke and forward-looking, whilst socking it to the oil companies and the government.

It’s a novel sensation for me to be an early adopter of new technology. Indeed, the whole electric car thing feels very much in its initial stages of evolution, calling to mind those first mobile phones the size of cereal boxes, with their giant aerials sticking out the top.

My husband, a fan of all things techy, loves it. It’s perfect for his job as a GP, ideal for local journeys and visits to patients. But, for longer trips, we must learn the locations of charging stations, factoring stops up and down the A9 and beyond, to zap the car with more power.

For control freaks like me, that’s where the worry kicks in. There’s a phrase for it: range anxiety. It’s all very well for the car to say it’s good for 180 miles but I promise you, it lies. All it needs is a bit of a headwind, a few hills and a slightly heavy welly boot on the accelerator and all bets are off.

Factoring in time to charge an electric car is a big change from pausing to fill up for petrol (Photo: PH888/Shutterstock)

I braved my first long run recently, driving my daughter back to Edinburgh. The drive down, in daylight, was fun and stress-free.

We charged it up in Perth to ensure we’d make it all the way, even though we might have done without, but I wasn’t going to take that risk, was I?

EV users can be left feeling vulnerable

The road home was another story. It was late and I was alone. I sang all the way up the motorway, plugged in at the charging station at Broxden and sat in the darkness, reading Twitter on my phone.

My clever-clogs car told me I’d be charged up and good to go in 25 minutes, which isn’t long but, as my twitchy brain quickly began to suggest, plenty of time to be murdered

A few metres away, three carloads of young lads were parked up, in high spirits, milling round their souped-up vehicles. Harmless. Just shouty, Saturday banter; lads being lads. Nothing to see.

Wait – did one of them just look this way? No, never mind. I reread the same screen over and over, not taking in a word. What if they were electric car haters? What if…?

Some supermarket car parks offer EV charging facilities (Photo: Moray Council)

I am a big cowardy custard. I’d learned that there was a superfast charge point in Pitlochry, so I decided to spare myself needless unease by heading further north to complete the charge.

The car park in Pitlochry was deserted: one of those places that has lighting which doesn’t reach the ground. On my right, the railway line. Trees to the left. Shrubbery. Straight ahead – who knew? It was too dark to see.

I plugged in the clunky cable and rode out the tense few seconds of wondering whether or not it would work. The green light came on. Phew.

My clever-clogs car told me I’d be charged up and good to go in 25 minutes, which isn’t long but, as my twitchy brain quickly began to suggest, plenty of time to be murdered, unnoticed, in the dark.

I wouldn’t want others to be in the same potentially dangerous situation

Maybe I’ll get used to it, but there is something profoundly unsettling about being confined to a tethered car in a strange place at night. It wasn’t lost on me that, if any murderers did happen along, I’d have had to get out of the vehicle and unplug it in order to make my escape, which wasn’t ideal.

Spooked, I gazed blankly at my phone, reluctant to put the interior light on, reluctant even to put the radio on because, not only would both of these things draw attention, but, also, I figured they might slow down the charge and I’d be stuck there for even longer.

There was nothing stopping me heading to town for a walk up and down Pitlochry’s lovely high street but, come on, how many women enjoy strolling along deserted pavements at 11 o’clock at night?

Electric cars and their infrastructure are still in their infancy (Photo: PA)

I thought back to the charge point I’d abandoned in Perth. Those lads were probably lovely – of course they weren’t going to bother a wee wifie charging her mum-car! They now seemed infinitely preferable to the imagined stranger lurking here.

My son once told me how he sometimes noticed older people giving him wary looks, which was tough to hear. Shame on me. Shame. On. Me.

I’m grateful for the charge points; they’re free, if you find the right ones, and they are the future: they have to be. But, I hope they’re only the beginning of the future, like those cereal-box mobile phones, and that, one day, there’ll be a better way to do it.

Range anxiety is only half the story.

Would I recommend electric cars to my nearest and dearest? Not right now, regretfully. Not while there’s a chance they might find themselves all alone in the dark.

Erica Munro is a novelist, playwright, screenwriter and freelance editor

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