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Do you know what to do if a car hits a power pole?

How familiar are you with the safety information that can save your life?

Pop quiz! The car you're riding in has been in an accident and you've hit a utility pole. Some wires from the pole are laying across your car. What do you do?

Nobody likes to wonder about such things. But it is a good idea to think about what you'd do in advance. You know the saying: You should always be prepared.

The new Safety section on our website is filled with practical information on how to stay safe in emergencies, and includes an infographic that was designed to specifically address accidents involving motor vehicles.

Assume that downed power lines are live

The most important thing to remember is that if you ever see a downed power line — whether it's because of a car accident or not — you should always assume that it's energized. And a live power line is extremely dangerous. You must keep at least 10 metres (33 feet) away from any line. That's about the length of a standard school bus.

Make sure you warn any others in the vicinity about the need to keep back at least 10 metres and call 911.

In collaboration with first responders, BC Hydro employees will isolate the power line and make sure it's safe.

What else you do in the event you're involved in a motor vehicle accident involving a power line depends on whether you're inside the car.

If you're outside the vehicle

  1. Keep a bus-length away, about 10 metres (33 feet).
  2. If you can communicate with people in the vehicle, tell them to stay where they are.
  3. Call 911 and tell the operator there is a downed power line at the scene.

If you're inside the vehicle

  1. If you can safely drive out from under the line or away from the source of electricity, do so. Travel at least the length of a bus (about 10 metres, or 33 feet) before stopping.
  2. Do not attempt to reach out the window to remove the downed wire from your vehicle.
  3. If you can't drive the vehicle for any reason, stay where you are until help arrives. Unless there is a secondary emergency — if the vehicle is on fire, for example — you are safer where you are. If the vehicle is inoperable, if there are obstacles in the way, or if you are injured, wait for help.
  4. Only exit the vehicle if you must get out to stay safe. If you need to exit for safety reasons (such as a fire), make sure you follow these steps:
    • Remove any loose-fitting clothing. You need to make sure that when you exit the vehicle, no part of your body or your clothing is touching the vehicle and the ground at the same time.
    • With the door open, prepare to jump by tucking your elbows into your stomach and keeping your hands clasped close to your chest.
    • Jump out and away from the vehicle, making sure that you land with your feet together. You must not stumble, so don't try and jump far. Just travel a couple of feet so you can make sure you're not touching the vehicle.
    • Move away from the vehicle, using the shuffle technique.

Shuffle your feet while moving around near a downed power line

If you must move around within the 10-metre safety perimeter, shuffle your feet. It's dangerous to walk normally by stepping and picking your feet off the ground.

That's because a downed line creates what's called a voltage gradient on the ground surface. The gradient occurs between the point where the line makes contact, and some distance away, where the voltage dissipates to zero or that of the ground (think of ripples on a pond when a stone is thrown in).

When walking, your feet and legs can act as a bridge between two areas of different voltages, and can form a circuit for electricity to travel through. If you shuffle with your feet touching together, your feet and legs cannot form a circuit, so electricity from the ground will not travel through you.

When you shuffle, ensure your feet do not lift off the ground, and that your feet are always touching. The inside of your heel should still be touching the toe of the other foot when you start to move the other leg forward.

Shuffling in this manner gives you the best chance to avoid being fatally electrocuted.