What to Do When You Come Across a Downed Power Line

What to Do When You Come Across a Downed Power Line

Downed power lines can be a serious hazard, but remaining calm and following 4 simple rules can ensure that you’ll be safe from electrocution if you need to exit your car.

Though downed power lines may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to emergency situations you’ll encounter on the road, they can be among the most dangerous. In July 2016, a phone line fell on a New Jersey woman’s vehicle during a storm. The woman was electrocuted when she tried to exit the vehicle.

Power lines can fall to the ground for any number of reasons, including storms or accidents that involve a power pole. Floods can also increase the dangers posed by a downed power line.

While fallen power lines are dangerous and can lead to serious or deadly harm, there are only a handful of rules you will need to follow to stay safe.

The 6 Do’s and Don’ts of Fallen Power Lines

When you see a downed power line, always assume that it is live. What makes power lines particularly dangerous is that they transfer high voltages to anything they come into contact with. If you find yourself in the vicinity of a downed power line, make sure to take these steps:

  1. Do: Stay at least 35 feet away from the ground from where the line is making contact. Electricity uses conductors to reach the ground, so the surrounding ground may be energized and harmful.
  2. Do: Contact a local utility emergency center and/or 911 as soon as possible. Wait for fire department, police, or utility workers to arrive on the scene. They will let you know when it is safe to leave your vehicle.
  3. Do: Make sure any bystanders are clear of the surrounding areas as well.

It’s also important to keep in mind things you should avoid in the event of a fallen power line:

  • Don’t: Make contact with trees, branches, vehicles, or anything that is touching the power line. The line could transfer a charge through objects and electrocute anyone touching them.
  • Don’t: Enter water that is in contact with a power line. Water conducts electric current, posing a danger when it comes into contact with a live wire.
  • Don’t: Attempt to drive over any fallen power lines.

The 4 Steps of Leaving Your Vehicle

If you are in a vehicle near a fallen power line, remain completely inside the vehicle. Since the ground outside and below your vehicle may be energized, exiting could pose a risk. Instead call 911 and roll down a window to warn nearby pedestrians of the power line.

A situation might arise that would require you to exit your vehicle, such as a fire, that may put you in greater danger by staying inside. Before exiting the vehicle:

  • Remove all loose articles of clothing to prevent getting caught on outside objects or making contact with anything that has become electrified
  • Place your arms securely at your sides and jump clear of the vehicle
  • Make sure to land without touching the vehicle or any other objects that may be energized
  • Make sure your feet are together and shuffle them as closely as possible until you are at least 35 feet away from the power line and any charged objects; the further your feet are apart the greater the chance you will be shocked

Touching an electrified object with your feet can turn your body into a conductor.

Power lines are dangerous and can break and fall for a multitude of reasons. But avoiding their dangers just requires patience, a level head, and following the above rules.

Drive safely!

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