A Safety Lesson Learned

If a power line falls on your vehicle, remain in the car until first responders clear your exit.

by Tucker Kennedy, Ameren Illinois
Tucker Kennedy

In vehicular accidents involving power lines, the vehicle and surrounding area can become energized, creating a dangerous situation for the driver and any passengers. A few summers ago, for example, a thunderstorm and high winds knocked down some of our power poles in the Champaign area. A teenage girl from Unity High School in Tolono, Illinois, happened to be driving nearby. When one of the power lines fell onto her car, she panicked, worried that it would catch on fire. Unsure of what to do next—and assuming it was safe to exit—she stepped out of her vehicle and ran away before using her cellphone to call for help. Thankfully, the power lines were not energized and she was unhurt.

The Power of Outreach
As her story made its way back to the Ameren Illinois operations team, our coworkers remarked how fortunate this young girl was to not have been seriously injured. Had that power line been live, the outcome could have been much worse. The girl’s family was contacted to see if she would share her experiences with her high school classmates, and she agreed to speak at a future safety demonstration Ameren Illinois was holding at her school.

Each year, the Ameren Illinois community relations and safety teams deliver electric and natural gas safety presentations to hundreds of schools and thousands of students throughout our service territory. Topic examples include classroom sessions on the dangers of electricity, what to do when the “rotten egg” smell of natural gas is present inside the home, and as in the case of the young girl from Tolono, the proper protocols to follow in the event that one’s vehicle comes into contact with a power line.

These outreach sessions present the opportunity to reach impressionable youth at a time when the messages are most likely to resonate. In addition, the students who attend these sessions invariably take the messages home and share them with their parents and siblings. We have firsthand accounts of youngsters taking proactive action to keep their families safe based on the information they learned at an Ameren presentation. 

The power of electric safety education really hit home with the young driver in Tolono. At the all-school assembly, she spoke about her experience and recounted the mistake she made that could have cost her life. Her classmates were rapt with attention. 

Learning From the Experience
Not two months later, four teenagers were out together when a tornado warning was issued for Champaign County. Heeding this warning, the teens were headed home when high winds dropped power lines onto their vehicle. Fortunately, they had been present in the Unity High gymnasium to hear our Tolono teen driver’s testimonial and message about what actions to take. The young driver stopped the vehicle and she and her friends remained inside, calling 9-1-1. When first responders arrived and it was determined the line was no longer energized, only then did they safely exit the car. 

One of the passengers later posted the following message on Facebook: “Thankful that Ameren came to our school this year and talked about what to do if power lines fall while driving or we wouldn't have known what to do.”

Ameren Illinois is learning from this experience as well. This fall, we will provide educational materials to drivers education instructors so they can teach their students what to do in a downed wire situation. Our goal is to impact many more teen drivers and keep them—our future customers—safe on the road. PM