Think back to your elementary school days learning about electricity. Most learn electricity takes the path of least resistance. But as we learn more about electricity and how it acts, we know now, electricity takes ALL paths to ground and that could include you.
Vehicle accidents involving all sources of power including power lines, pad-mounted transformers or other electrical equipment puts all vehicle occupants at risk. The first thing you should know is, don’t get out. The vehicle acts as a path to ground, but as soon as anyone steps out of the vehicle, they become the path.
This is true, even if individuals attempt to step on their rubber tires. Maybe you’ve heard that rubber is a good insulator, so you think stepping on a tire to escape a trapped vehicle is a good idea. But Larry Detwiler, director of Loss Control, Safety and Compliance for Kansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc. wants people to think twice about the rubber tire myth.
“With the advancements in tires, to make them last longer and ride better, they incorporated steel belts in the tires, which we call radial tires,” Detwiler said.
With the inclusion of metal in tires, the tires no longer serve as a dielectric (non-conductive) type of material but rather conductors of electricity. As you sit inside your vehicle, the electricity passes along the outside of the vehicle body, through the chassis and tires and into the ground.
But why can a bird sit on an electrical wire and be perfectly fine? The bird is not creating a path to the ground for electricity like you would be if you stepped out of a vehicle in contact with a power line.
Detwiler notes that even some agriculture and construction equipment or off-road-use vehicles use radials or steel belts. No vehicle is safe to exit while in contact with live electrical equipment.
If you are in an accident involving electrical equipment, stay in your vehicle. Call 911 and wait for the proper utility to be dispatched and shut off power. Once given the OK by the utility, it is safe to exit.
If there is an immediate emergency, such as the vehicle is on fire, exit quickly but safely. If you must exit, jump from the vehicle, without touching any part of the vehicle, and land with your feet together. Bunny hop as far away as possible from the site of the accident.
“Regardless of whether it’s a piece of equipment or vehicle — whether it’s the tractor, the pickup truck, the combine — if it’s not on fire stay in the vehicle,” Detwiler said. “Your No. 1 priority and option is to stay in that vehicle and make a phone call.”