Stories & Features

Power pole crash? Stay put, unless your car's on fire

If your car hits a power pole, you have three safe choices

It's not at all unusual for a motor vehicle to hit a power pole in B.C. In fact, damaged power lines as a result of these accidents accounts for many power outages each year.

So, if it happens to you, how do you stay safe? A recent survey commissioned by BC Hydro revealed that almost half (47%) of British Columbians don't know what to do if a power line falls on their vehicle.  

The video on this page covers the two best options: Back your vehicle out until you’re at least 10 metres away from the pole or any fallen power lines; or stay put, call 911 and warn anyone arriving at the scene to stay at least 10 metres away – about the length of a transit bus.

But if your car is on fire, or smoke is billowing from it, you’re going to have to safely "shuffle" away.

"People have to remember that this is a worst case scenario," says Jonny Knowles, public safety lead for BC Hydro. "Jumping out of a vehicle is not a preferred option, but it’s the only option if your vehicle’s on fire, or there’s smoke coming out of your engine."

It's important that you know how to safely get out of the car, and how to shuffle away for at least 10 metres. It's all about avoiding "touch potential" – such as stumbling upon your exit and touching the car for balance, which could create a flow of electricity from the vehicle, through your body and to the ground – or "step potential", which is a path from the ground, up one leg, through your body, and out the other leg.

You avoid both these by: opening the vehicle door, and with your hands tucked against your chest, making a small "hop" – with your feet touching one another – to the ground clear of the car. From there, you shuffle – feet always touching – until you’re 10 metres away.

"Don’t be ambitious with your jump - just take a small hop out onto the ground, with your feet together," says Knowles. "As soon as you separate your feet, electricity travels through you. And when you shuffle, it's like walking like a penguin. You have downward pressure, with your feet touching, and just shuffle away, heel to toe, heel to toe. And take your time, because there's no hurry."

In other words. Disregard what you've seen on TV and in movies – actors running free of flaming vehicles to avoid an explosion. In reality, your focus should be on "touch" and "step" potential.

Knowles emphasizes that the BC Hydro electrical system, which provides clean, reliable electricity across B.C., is designed to be safe.

"What we're talking about here are adverse events, where something unusual happens," he says. "And we want you to know what to do in those situations. Just have a plan."