EV charging in disable spot: Follow your conscience

Q: Can you use a disabled electric vehicle charge station without a disability placard if you stay in your vehicle ready to move for a disabled person? That would be in cases where all the non-disabled spaces are occupied. It makes sense, but what is the law?

A: Parking for disabled motorists has been around for decades. By now anyone who has been paying attention knows that if you see a parking spot marked with a white wheelchair on a blue background, that’s reserved for folks who have a special placard or plate. It’s rare that I see anyone violate that law, so it seems we have that one mostly figured out. To the few who do illegally park in spots for people with disabilities, you probably don’t care what we think about you.

But what about when you combine an EV charger with a parking spot marked for people with disabilities? Does that change the rules? Can a disabled person with an internal combustion engine park there? Can a non-disabled EV driver charge there? I’ve found lots of recommendations from organizations, but not a lot of rules.

We’re in an in-between time for EVs. They’re not a novelty anymore, but they’re new enough that we still have some stuff to figure out. That includes making sure that charging stations are accessible for all EV users. As of 2021, this state requires that new construction projects provide EV charging in 10% of all parking spots.

Of course, most of the parking lots you encounter aren’t new so the new rules don’t apply. Even so, it’s possible that you could find an EV charging site that is accessible for a disabled driver (wider and with walk path markings on the ground) but without the blue disabled sign. Can a non-disabled driver use it?

I was hoping that state law would provide an answer, but I couldn’t find one. However, I found some city codes that state, “It is not necessary to designate the accessible electric vehicle charging station exclusively for the use of disabled persons.” Presumably that would only apply in situations where the accessible charging station is not counted in the total required accessible parking spaces (and thus wouldn’t be marked with the disabled sign.)

For years parking lots have had a requirement to provide parking for disabled people at a rate of one accessible space for every 25 total spaces. If the EV charging spot also counts as one of the required accessible parking spaces, it should be marked with the accepted signage, and in that situation, you wouldn’t be allowed to charge your EV there without a disabled placard.

Now let’s say there is a row of charging stations and one is accessible (but not posted with the blue disabled sign). I’m going to use a bathroom analogy. If you walked into a public restroom, and the only stall left is accessible, well, you have an urgent need, so do what you have to do. But if others are available leave that one for someone who needs it.

The accessible EV charging laws are new (and evolving). That said, we can always choose to make kind driving (and charging) choices. Follow the law when it’s clear (stay out of spots marked with a disabled sign), and follow your conscience when it’s not.

Doug Dahl writes the weekly The Wise Drive column for this newspaper. He is with the state Traffic Safety Commission.