Molly Hall, Director of Safe Electricity
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Less than a week after a power line safety demonstration at their high school, the car Lee Whittaker, Ashley Taylor and two friends were in crashed into a utility pole. Fortunately for them, Illinois safety expert Kyle Finley had educated them well on the proper actions to take after a vehicle hits a utility pole. They survived by remembering what Finley taught them.
“You have to remember that you can’t smell, hear or see electricity, but the power in that line is tremendous,” Finley says. “The safest place after a crash is inside the vehicle, and the best thing you can do for a loved one who is trapped is to stay back and call the utility to disconnect power to the line.”
When the Bronco the teens were traveling in crashed into the utility pole, bringing a power line down on the car, they knew not to get out and informed those who approached the scene to keep their distance. They waited more than 30 minutes for line crews to arrive and de-energize the power line.
“It was hard to wait inside, but Kyle had emphasized several times to stay in the car,” said Lee Whittaker.
“It happened so quickly after we learned about it, and to think we used it to save each other’s lives,” adds Ashley Taylor. “We’re really lucky.”
According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, there are tens of thousands of accidents each year in which power poles are struck by cars or large equipment. Each one of these accidents has the potential to bring down power lines. Surviving the accident itself might not be enough to stay alive without awareness of the right moves to make.
In the vast majority of those accidents, the safety place to be is inside the car. Only in the rare instance of fire should people exit the car. Then, they must know how to do so safely, jumping free and clear of the vehicle, landing with feet together and hopping away. It’s difficult to get out without creating a path for current to flow, which is why one should get out only if circumstances necessitate it.
When people are involved in a car accident, electricity is usually the last thing on anyone’s mind. We’re often more concerned about whether anyone was injured, or how badly the vehicle is damaged. We often forget that by exiting the vehicle, we’re risking bodily exposure to 7,200 volts of electricity from downed power lines.
Lee and Ashley are grateful to the local utility – White County Rural Electric Membership Corporation that sponsored Finley’s Live Line Demo program at their school. They encourage everyone to learn from their experience and share this vital information with those they love.
“After the demo at school, I went home and shared it with my family and my friends,” said Lee Whittaker. “They kind of laughed at me but it showed them when I had my accident that I survived with the information I heard.”
To learn more about the teens’ experience and power line safety during car accidents see the video on www.SafeElectricity.org. Visitors can also watch a live power line demonstration, just like the one the Indiana teens saw at their school.
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Molly Hall is the Director of Safe Electricity. For more information visit www.SafeElectricity.org.