About 3,000 drivers hit poles each year, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Utilities Partner to Protect Teen Drivers From Downed Lines

Dec. 4, 2019
Teen drivers may not be aware of what to do when their car accidentally crashes into a power pole or a severe storm blows down a line across the road.

Electric utility linemen know the risks of downed power lines, and through extensive training, they are able to de-energize the lines following storms or vehicle accidents. Teen drivers, however, may not be aware of what to do when their car accidentally crashes into a power pole or a severe storm blows down a line across the road.

To safeguard these new drivers, Ameren Illinois partnered with Puget Sound Energy and the Illinois High School & College Driver’s Education Association to create teaching materials that driver’s education instructors can use to educate their students about power-lines-on-car safety, says Brian Bretsch, communications executive for Ameren Illinois.

The project, which took about a year to complete, was led by Bretsch and support from the Ameren Illinois communications team, and Ben Cutler of Serafin & Associates, a Chicago-based consultant. Along with a link to the dynamic video, the team created a letter to the instructors from Richard J. Mark, Ameren Illinois chairman and president, a quiz, discussion points and an infographic. Starting on Aug. 19, the video and curriculum were rolled out through the association’s partnership to more than 500 instructors throughout Ameren Illinois’ service territory.

Sharing a Survival Story

Ameren Illinois decided to create the new safety module after meeting with Jordy Curtis, who survived a wire-down scenario during a severe summer storm a few years ago. The 16-year-old from Sidney, Illinois, was driving home when storms blew down power lines on top of her car.

“I was caught inside and panicked because I did not know what to do,” she recalled in the video clip. “I assumed my car would catch on fire, so I did what any normal teenager would—I got out of the vehicle, stepped over the power lines and ran to safety. Luckily, the lines were dead. If they had been live, thousands of volts of electricity would have passed through my body, and I probably wouldn’t be here.”

Following the incident, she didn’t want other high school students to be confronted with the same situation. She approached leaders at Ameren Illinois’ operating center in Champaign, Illinois, and requested that the utility educate her fellow students about the hazards of downed power lines. Ameren Illinois went a step further by inviting the driver’s education association to view a demonstration involving a parked car and simulated downed power lines.

Creating Awareness

Like Ameren Illinois, Puget Sound Energy is also working to create awareness about vehicle safety. To that end, the utility created a video, which Ameren Illinois is including as part of the driver’s education module.

The video shows a car accidentally colliding with a wood power pole. It then walks the viewer through the steps to ensure their safety. If possible, the driver should stay in the vehicle and call 911. In the event the car begins to smoke or catch on fire, the driver must jump out of the vehicle and land with both feet together, and then move away using short, shuffling steps to avoid the risk of electrocution or electric shock from touch potential or step potential.

Karen Boulanger, director of safety for Ameren Illinois, says her Ameren Illinois employees drive an average of 30 million miles each year, and her job is to ensure that they have the proper training. Many drivers—especially if they just earned their driver’s license—may not know what to do in a wire-down situation.

“Would you know what to do if you hit a pole or a strong wind blew a line on your car in a storm?” she asked the driver’s education students in the video. “This scenario is extremely dangerous and knowing the proper protocol could mean the difference between life and death.”

Visit www.ameren.com/illinois/drivered for more information.

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