‘Stay in the car’

Don’t turn a property damage accident with a utility pole into an electrical fatality

Stay in the car graphic

Tens of thousands of accidents occur each year when power poles are struck by vehicles or large equipment. Each of these accidents has the potential to bring down power lines. Surviving the accident itself might not be enough to stay alive without awareness of the right moves to make.

“Stay in the car, stay in the car, stay in the car!” is the mantra Indiana Electric Cooperatives wants drivers to remember.

“Whenever a power line is involved, even a minor accident can become tragic,” said John Cassady, CEO of Indiana Electric Cooperatives. “Staying put for all involved, and warning passersby to stay away, too, cannot be stressed enough. Only after first responders arrive on scene and say it’s OK, should you get out.”

Staying put 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 and hardware can break loose from their 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. Immediately after a collision with a utility pole, you may not 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. Stay put and stay safe.
  • 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 until first responders and/or utility workers arrive and tell you that it’s safe to exit.

“Accidents with utility poles are always going to happen, especially when roads are wet,” Cassady noted. “Know what to do if that happens to you so a minor accident doesn’t become something worse.”