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2012-09-06

Know what to do in vehicle accidents involving power lines

Special to the Courier Bandera Electric Coop

An August car accident in Los Angeles, California brought grim reminders of what you should and should not do if you are involved in or come upon the scene of a car accident involving a power line.

In the LA incident, a one vehicle accident that involved a single driver ended with two dead and six injured after bystanders who tried to help the driver out of the SUV were electrocuted. The SUV knocked over a fire hydrant and power pole, exposing live wires.

So, what should you do if you are involved in a vehicle accident with a power line?

If you are an occupant of a vehicle that comes into contact with a power line, stay on board to remain safe.

The natural instinct is to flee, but that can lead to tragic results. If the vehicle is operable and can be moved out of contact with the line without causing additional damage to the line of poles, do so. As long as the vehicle is in contact with a line or a line is down near the vehicle, do not leave the vehicle.

The only exception to this would be if fire or another life threatening situation puts you in immediate danger. In that case, jump clear of the vehicle with both feet together, making sure you are never in contact with the car and the ground at the same time. Keeping both feet together, hop 50 feet away from the vehicle and power line.

Jumping away may sound odd, but by simply stepping out of the vehicle your body becomes the path for electricity to reach the ground with electrocution as the often tragic result. These same principles apply to large farm and construction equipment.

Warn others to stay away from the area. For everyone's safety, it is best to wait until utility personnel arrive to make sure power to the line is cut. Just because a line is down, poles or lines appear damaged, or people in the area have lost power following the accident, do not assume that the line is no longer energized or hot. Only qualified utility personnel are able to make that determination. All power lines should be treated as energized until qualified personnel have determine otherwise.

If you are a bystander or witness to an accident involving power poles and lines, remain in your vehicle and call for help. It is natural instinct in this position to want to help, but as the Los Angeles accident tragically demonstrates, it is best to wait for trained assistance to avoid additional injuries.

Keep in mind, power lines are sometimes buried. When that is the case, pad-mount transformers (also known as junction boxes) house high voltage equipment. You have probably seen these big green boxes around.

If your car comes in contact with a pad-mount transformer during an accident, all of the same principles discussed above apply.

Pictured: Top- Despite half of this Bandera Electric pole being taken out during a car wreck in July, the line remained energized.

Bottom- Pad-mount transformers like this one present the same dangers during a car accident as an above ground power line.