Do you remember being overly worried about getting stuck in quicksand as a kid? It seems every other show and movie featured the trope of the protagonist getting stuck and their sidekick warning them “Don’t struggle against it, you will only sink faster!”. The real-life threat of quicksand turned out to be, disappointingly, overblown. Now everyone knows how to escape, stay still until your buddy throws you a conveniently located vine or rope and fishes you out, but the possibility of that situation ever happening is extremely low. A slightly more likely dangerous situation you may need to know how to react to is live power lines falling on a vehicle. Faming accidents, falling tree limbs, ice buildup, and car collisions could all feasibly knock a live power line down on top of an occupied vehicle. So, what should you do in that situation?
First ALWAYS assume any downed line is a live wire. It is nearly impossible to tell the difference between an energized line and dead one. Some can ark and jump around violently while others just sit there. If you find yourself inside of a vehicle contacting a power line, the best thing to do is remain inside the car. Call 911 and avoid touching the metal parts of the vehicle while you wait for help. The power company can turn off the line, verify it is dead, and then you can safely exit the vehicle with the help of first responders.
If you SEE a vehicle come into contact with a power line, warn the occupants not to exit the cab and call 911 while taking care to keep plenty of distance yourself.
The ONLY time it is worth the risk of exiting a potentially energized vehicle is in the event of a fire, but this is a dangerous last resort. Still, if you MUST exit, there is one way to do it that minimizes the risk of shock. Open the door and swing your legs out of the vehicle taking care not to touch the metal skin of the door opening and then HOP out with both feet landing on the ground together. Then, keeping your feet together as if your shoe-laces are tied, bunny-hop or pinguin-shuffle away from the burning vehicle till you are about 50ft away.
What is the logic behind this advice? Electricity works on “potentials”. It moves from areas of high potential energy to areas of low potential energy through any sufficiently conductive material. Think of throwing a rock in a still pond and watching the ripples expand outward. As long as you are in one of those concentric circles, like the inside of your car insulated from the ground by the tires, you are safe. If you bridge two of the ripples together with your body, a shock can occur. This is why birds on a wire don’t get electrocuted, but a squirrel climbing up a power pole might be. By keeping your feet together and avoiding touching any two surfaces that are at different electric potentials, you minimize the risk of shock.
Never drive over downed lines across the street, contact Craighead Electic Cooperative immediately if you ever see damaged power lines.