On a late wintry Saturday afternoon, Nick and Blake decided to take Nick’s car to a movie — despite falling snow and parental advice to stay home.
Moments later, where the county road zigged and zagged a mile past their neighborhood, Nick’s car did neither. It slid straight off and bumped into an electric cooperative utility pole. The car’s air bags exploded, but both teens were unhurt. Then, they did something that could have turned this property damage accident into a multiple fatality: they stepped out of the car.
“Stay in the car, stay in the car, stay in the car!” is the mantra Indiana Electric Cooperatives wants drivers to remember.
“When a power line is involved, even a minor accident can become tragic,” said John Gasstrom, CEO of Indiana Electric Cooperatives. “It cannot be stressed enough that staying inside the vehicle, and warning passersby to stay away, too, is the safest route. Only after a first responder arrives on scene and says it’s OK, should you get out.”
However, staying inside the vehicle may go against a driver’s first inclination. You want to get out and check the car. But stepping out of the car immediately after striking a utility pole may KILL YOU. Here’s why:
- Power lines can fall. When a pole is struck, power lines can fall, and hardware can break loose from its insulated perches atop the pole.
- Fallen power lines can still be energized. Even touching the ground, power lines can still be carrying 7,200 volts or more. They may not spark or buzz.
- Fallen power lines are hard to see. Silhouetted against the sky or glistening in sunlight atop poles, power lines may seem easy to see. But when knocked down and twisted with tall grass or trees as a background, especially at night, power lines are almost impossible to see.
- Electricity seeks the quickest path to ground. If you get out of the car and touch a live power line and the ground, you become that path. That amount of electricity passing through you can kill you instantly.
- If you are alive, you are safe. It’s not easy to know if power lines have broken loose and are on your car. But if you are alive, you are not that deadly “path to ground.” If you were in that path, you’d already be dead.
- Call 9-1-1. After hitting a pole, call 9-1-1. Tell them you hit a pole. And wait patiently. Tell passersby to stay back. Wait till you know it’s safe before exiting.
Making a safe escape from downed power lines
If your car comes in contact with a utility pole, power lines may have fallen. If that happens, stay in the car and call for help. A fallen power line could still be energized and could be energizing your car. If you step from the car, you could become electricity’s path to ground and be electrocuted.
Only if the accident has caused a fire or there is another immediate threat to your safety should you exit the car. To be safe, here is how to you must exit:
- Open the door without touching the metal of the door frame.
- With both feet together, hop out and away from the vehicle so no part of your body touches the vehicle and the ground at the same time. Maintain your balance.
- Keeping your feet together, slowly shuffle away so that the toe of one foot moves forward along the length of the other foot. Keep both feet in constant contact and always touching the ground.
- Keep shuffling 30 or more feet until you are away from the car and power line.
- Be watchful for low hanging power lines or lines on the ground.
What to do if you hit a utility pole
If your vehicle comes in contact with a utility pole or a downed power line, the most important thing is to stay inside the car! Stepping out could electrocute you if your car is touching energized lines. While you wait for help:
- DO gather your wits.
- DON’T open the car door or reach out the window.
- DO call 9-1-1 if you have your cell phone. Tell them you’ve struck a utility pole and power lines may have fallen.
- DO tell passersby to stay back. They might walk right into a fallen energized line.