Did you know more than 6 million car accidents – and 3 million subsequent injuries – occur in the U.S. each year? Getting behind the wheel is the most dangerous thing most of us do each day, and that’s before high-voltage electric equipment is added to the equation.

Each year, countless vehicles crash into utility poles and other electrical equipment across the energy grid. This usually causes power lines to come down – not only knocking out power to nearby homes and businesses – but also putting lives at risk. Considering 94% of all car crashes are caused by driver error, it’s safe to say most accidents, including ones involving the energy grid, are completely preventable.

Knowing what you can do to prevent vehicle accidents from happening is extremely important – and so is knowing how to respond if you’re trapped in a car by a downed power line. So, in the spirit of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, we put together some tips to help keep you and your passengers – and others on the road – safe in the event the unexpected occurs.

What to do if a power line falls on your vehicle

  1. Assume the downed power line – and everything it’s touching – is energized and extremely dangerous. Not all energized power lines arc, spark, smoke or buzz. In fact, many times, energized lines just lie motionless on the ground, but they’re just as deadly.
  2. Stay calm and stay put. Take a moment to gather your thoughts and assess the situation you’re in. If your car is inoperable, stay where you’re at and don’t panic. Unless there’s a secondary emergency, such as fire or smoke, it’s safer to stay inside your vehicle than it is to exit and risk electrocution.
  3. Call 911. When you do, let the dispatcher know you were in a vehicle accident and there’s a downed power line on your vehicle. The dispatcher will call DTE – or the energy company in the area – and crews will be sent to de-energize the power line before first responders attempt to help you. You can also contact us directly through our mobile app or at 800.477.4747 if you’re trapped by a downed power line, or if you see one within our electric service territory.
  4. Tell bystanders to stay away. Good Samaritans may see that you’ve been in an accident and try to help you without noticing the downed power line on or near your car. If anyone begins to approach your vehicle, or tries to help you, warn them to stay at least 20 feet away from the power line and anything it may touch. Honk your horn, roll your window down and yell. Doing so could save lives.

What to do if there’s a secondary emergency and you need to exit your car

  1. Prepare for your escape. Never touch your car and the ground at the same time. Doing so could turn your body into an electrical conductor and could kill you. Remove loose clothing, open your car door, step onto the frame of the car with your feet close together and tuck your hands and elbows into your chest and stomach.
  2. Jump out of the car with your feet together. Imagine you’re diving into a pool feet first and trying to make as small a splash as possible, jumping as far away as possible. Know your limitations and don’t jump too far, or in a way that could cause you to lose control of your body.
    • Keeping your feet as close as possible when you jump is more important than how far you jump. If your feet are apart from each other, electricity could travel through your body.
  3. Shuffle or hop to safety. Again, the goal is to prevent your body from becoming an electrical circuit, allowing electricity to pass through it. Shuffle your feet in slow and short strides – or hop with your feet together – until you’re at least 20 feet away from the wire.

Be sure to read about how a DTE employee’s commitment to educating family members about downed power line safety saved a life: click here for the story. Also, here’s a related dramatization by Puget Sound Energy you may find helpful. Since the video implies a car accident occurred and contains some situations that may bother children – or adults sensitive to these types of scenarios – viewer discretion is advised.

General downed power line safety tips

If you see – or think you see – a downed power line that’s not touching a car, click here for the steps you should take to keep yourself and others safe.