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What to Do if You Hit a Power Pole

  • Posted: 04.26.2021
power pole and lines on truck
Image: Safe Electricity

We all think it will never happen to us, but it can. And in an instant.

Any driver can come dangerously close to or enter electricity’s path. A driver can veer off the road and run into a power pole. A farmer may make contact with a power line while driving a tractor or other machinery. A dump- or feed-truck driver raising or lowering the truck bed might snag a power line.

Knowing what to do in any of these very dangerous situations can save your life. Incidents with power lines or other utility equipment break the electrical current’s usual path. This can make the ground, vehicles, and other equipment electrified.

If you hit a power pole, pad-mounted transformer (“green box”), or other electrical equipment, the correct responses in all instances are to stay in your vehicle or cab, and to call 9-1-1 and wait for utility crews to de-energize power (although there are several situations with additional instructions). Here are some dangerous situations you may face:

  • Your tractor or car strikes a guy wire (guy wires are the wires staked into the ground that stabilize utility poles). Under normal conditions, the guy wire is neutral (not energized), but if the wire is weakened, pulled out of the ground or otherwise damaged, it could become energized.
  • You hit a patch of ice and go off the road and hit a utility pole. Or you are in a car accident and one of the vehicles strikes a power pole. In this instance, in addition to calling 9-1-1, there is one reason to get out of your vehicle: if there is smoke or a fire; otherwise, stay put. If there is a fire, here is how to get away safely: Make a clean jump or hop from your car or truck (without touching it) and hop with your feet together or shuffle, keeping your feet on the ground at least 30 feet for safety. 524065MAY Think of the downed line sending electrical current across the ground in a ripple-like effect. Each ring of the ripple represents a different voltage. If you step from one ring to another, this is called "step potential" and it can electrocute you.
  • You see an accident that involves a downed power line. Do not approach the scene, but do call 9-1-1 in case the emergency crew has not been notified already.
  • You hit a pad-mounted transformer or other type of electrical box.
  • Your vehicle hits a substation.
  • You run off the road, hit a pole and it’s dark out, but you don’t know if lines are down.

Handling other dangerous situations

  • If you get something stuck in power lines (drone or remote-control device) do not try to retrieve it.
  • If you see kids climbing or sitting on pad-mounted transformers, ensure that they follow proper safety protocols to clear away from the unit and tell them to move away immediately and to not return to the area (if you know the parents or responsible adult, let them know also).
  • If you are carrying a tall ladder or pole, look up for power line locations, and keep a 10-foot (or more) clearance at all times.
  • If you see kids climb trees that have power lines above, warn them not to climb trees near power lines and, again, if you know the parents, talk with them as well.
  • If you use a portable generator, never plug it into a wall outlet because this can cause backfeeding into the line and kill a line worker or neighbor.

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