Last year, 2,000 vehicle accidents across Virginia involved utility poles, often due to slippery roads or other adverse weather conditions, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles. That means that, on average, five vehicles strike a utility pole every day. Would you know how to react if your vehicle struck a utility pole and electrical wires fell onto it? Dominion Virginia Power wants customers to know what to do if faced with this dangerous situation.
"The best advice for a driver is to stay calm and stay in the vehicle," said Rob Locke, director of electric safety and training. "The next step is to call 911. If downed wires are touching the car, electricity could be flowing through them. Power lines could also be touching and energizing the ground. You are often safest by staying put until help arrives."
A driver is protected from the electricity flowing through the car because the rubber tires serve as an insulator. But when stepping out of the vehicle one foot at a time, you create a path for the electricity to flow into the ground, causing severe and potentially fatal injuries.
"If fire or some other situation arises and you absolutely must get out of the car, open the door as wide as you can, and jump out of the vehicle without touching any part of it, making sure you land with your feet together," Locke said. "The ground near the vehicle is also likely to be energized. The farther apart your feet are from each other, the more likely it is that electricity will try to travel from one foot to the other. Shuffle or hop with feet together until you are about at least 30 feet away from the vehicle, even if it takes longer."
Click here to watch a video on how to safely exit a vehicle that is energized by power lines.
Locke reminded drivers to warn others in the area who might attempt to help. "Don't forget that anyone who may try to come to your aid while you are in the vehicle is also at risk," he said. "Warn them to stay at least 30 feet back. You may also be tempted to try to help someone in a vehicle, but it could be fatal — just call 911."
Dominion conducts year-round training for local emergency responders about how to respond in this type of an emergency. For more information on the demonstration, visit this video link. Homeowners, contractors, parents, teachers, first responders and customers are encouraged to visit our electrical safety resources page.