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Does your family know what to do if the car hits a power pole?

Image of a van that has hit a power pole near Ucluelet
A BC Hydro crew was recently called in for repairs to a distribution line after a van left the road and toppled a power pole near Ucluelet. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt in the incident.

Ucluelet incident reminds dad to spread word about safety and downed power lines

Posted by Rob Klovance

As an employee of BC Hydro, I'm fortunate to get excellent safety information and training, especially when it comes to safety around electricity. But when I saw a recent photo of a van that had hit and toppled a power pole near Ucluelet, I realized I wasn't fully prepared for such an incident.

It's not that I don't know the three options a driver has after hitting a power pole. I had worked with our safety department to help develop what has turned out to be a popular visual guide to safety when your vehicle hits a power pole. I had learned that your safe options are:

  • Stay put and wait for help (the first and best option)
  • Shuffle carefully away from the vehicle, if you know how to keep your feet together as you shuffle, and not hop
  • Back the vehicle away from a damaged pole, if your vehicle is still operating and your path is unobstructed.

The problem was, I hadn't told my son about how to stay safe in that situation.

While he's 10 years old and won't be driving for at least another six years, what would happen if he was in the car and I drove into a pole hard enough that I was somehow knocked unconscious? Would he know not to just leave the car and start walking away over possibly energized ground?

Take one look at the photo below and you can see just how hard the van hit that pole near Ucluelet.

"I think the vehicle entered the ditch, probably a 100 feet back from the pole," said BC Hydro power line technician Randy Wertz, who was part of the crew that repaired the distribution line after the Ucluelet collision. "I'm not sure what happened there. It looks like they hit the pole at a pretty high speed."

"All three conductors (power lines) were pretty much torn off and were floating out of any hazard to the public."

By the time the BC Hydro crew arrived at the scene, about an hour after the incident, the driver and any passengers had left the scene safely. Whether they were aware of proper safety procedures at such an incident is anyone's guess. But in this case, they would have been able to walk away unharmed because, while the pole fell, the conductors stayed in the air. The fallen lines that show in the photo are a Telus line and a ground cable. Would they have known neither was dangerous?

"The vehicle was probably 20 feet away from the pole, and all our hazardous conductors were up in the air," said Wertz, adding that the lines were de-energized by the collision. "All three cutouts — large fuses or "breakers"' — were open at the time. When the car hit the pole, all three conductors slapped together and created a fault, which opened the fuses and de-energized the conductors."

Image of a van that has hit a power pole near Ucluelet
Closeup shot of the damage to the van that recently hit and knocked over a power pole near Ucluelet.

Public seems to understand dangers of downed power lines

In his eight years with BC Hydro, Wertz says he has often helped provide safety advice to the public, usually associated with issues such as pruning trees around power lines or working near power lines. The good news is that many British Columbians seem to be aware of the potential dangers of electricity.

"I think people, for the most part, are pretty knowledgeable about staying away from downed wires," said Wertz.

That won't prevent us from continuing to spread messages about safety around electricity, be it at home or on the road. One false step could be fatal.

Here are some handy guides and videos that can help keep you and your family safe.

Rob Klovance is managing editor of bchydro.com.