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What to Do if Your Vehicle Strikes Utility Equipment

  • Posted: 05.26.2020
A pad-mount transformer. (Credit: Touchstone Energy)

You’ve probably noticed utility “green boxes,” a.k.a pad-mounted transformers, in your neighborhood or along roadways, but you’ve most likely never thought about what might happen if your vehicle crashes into one. Here’s what you need to know.

Q: My vehicle has struck a pad-mounted transformer “green box” or other utility equipment or lines: now what?
A: First, assess the situation. If your car is not smoking or on fire, stay in your vehicle.

If you are in an accident or incident involving electrical equipment, remain in your vehicle or cab until the local utility arrives to de-energize power. Stepping out of your vehicle while touching it at the same time or trying to walk or run to safety can cause serious burn injuries or death. Utility equipment includes:

  • Neighborhood pad-mounted transformers (metal boxes—usually green or grey)
  • Equipment such as a switching cabinet or junction box for underground utilities
  • Overhead power lines or poles
  • Substations

If you are in a multiple-car accident, yell to others (from your car) to warn them not to leave their vehicle. Also warn those who might stop to help to not approach the scene.

Call 9-1-1 to report the accident location and clearly state to the dispatcher that electrical lines or equipment is involved.

Q: What if I see smoke or fire?
Try to stay calm. Make a clear jump (without touching any part of the vehicle or tractor) and hop, shuffle or waddle like a penguin (with both feet together) at least 30 feet away to safety.

Just like downed power lines, ANY damaged utility equipment such as pad-mounted transformers or cabinets that house electrical equipment can send electrical current through the pavement or ground.

If you walk across the energized ground or touch an energized vehicle and ground at the same time, something called “difference of potential” (also called step potential) can occur, according to Safe Electricity. In explanation, when you pass from one current to another by taking regular steps and cross varying voltages of electricity (think of how water ripples—each ring represents a different voltage), this is difference of potential and it can cause extreme burn injuries or death. If you hop or shuffle, your body is much less likely to expose itself to different voltages at the same time.

DO NOT go near or touch electrical equipment. DO NOT move a downed wire with your hand or an object such as a stick.

Q: Can there still be damage to equipment even if I don’t see anything?
A: Yes, there can be damage to a pad-mounted transformer or other equipment that cannot be seen, even if metal boxes or cabinets look intact or appear to have minimal damage. When it comes to above-ground power lines, it is a fallacy that downed wires are insulated to the touch or that power is automatically cut once a power line is down or damaged.

Q: What can happen if a pad-mounted transformer or other equipment has been hit? Fire? Outage?
A: Assume the collision was hard enough there would be an outage. However, if the collision did not cause an outage there could be a fire. The worst possible option is that an outage doesn’t occur, but the vehicle (and ground) are energized, and danger is amplified for individuals who improperly exit the vehicle or others who approach the scene.

Another dangerous outcome could include a vehicle hitting a transformer or underground enclosure hard enough to dislocate it, exposing energized conductors or creating an area/hole to fall into that could be energized. This scenario especially applies to first responders or those who stop to help but could apply to anyone at the scene.

Q: So what's the bottom line?
A. If you have been in an accident involving a pad-mounted transformer, a power pole or downed lines, or anything that looks like utility equipment, do not leave your vehicle unless you are in imminent danger, and then properly exit your vehicle. Make a clear jump (without touching any part of the vehicle or tractor) and hop or shuffle at least 30 feet away to safety. Also warn others about the dangers.

Q: If I see damaged equipment or downed lines, should I report it to my utility?
A: Yes, call us to report any damaged utility equipment you see. Most damage is reported, but not always. Although we routinely check equipment for safety and maintenance, unreported damage can occur between checks. We want to be alerted of any problems so we can promptly address them.

Source: Safe Electricity