Power pole fallen on flipped car

responding to vehicle accidents

Every year thousands of vehicles collide with power poles across Australia. Knowing how to respond is crucial to keeping you, those involved in the accident, and the community safe.
In a 2018 Vehicle Safety Study of 1 Million Australian and NZ traffic incidents, 12% of all car crashes involved an impact with a fixed object such as a power pole or tree.

What’s the risk?

When a car crashes into a power pole, the likelihood of fallen wires or dislodgement of other electrical assets is high. Electricity is invisible - you can’t see it. This presents a challenge to Emergency Services to identify if the vehicle or the ground around the accident has become energised.

Emergency services responding to car crash


Risk to the responder

When you arrive at the scene of an accident, take a moment to look for electrical hazards such as damaged electrical pillar boxes, fallen powerlines, smoke or steam coming from the ground, and burnt grass close to an electrical asset. These are signs an accident site is energised, and you could be at risk of electrocution.
Female calling emergency number


risk to the patient

If passengers aren’t seriously injured, their instinct may be to exit the vehicle. Assuming there are no immediate life-threatening risks, like fire, the safest place for them is to stay inside the vehicle. Try to keep passengers calm while they remain in the vehicle. They risk electrocution if they try to exit while the area is energised. 

What is step potential?

Step potential is the voltage difference between the two points of contact (your feet) and an energised surface.

If an energised powerline has fallen, the electric current will always flow to the ground. The electricity will then spread outward in concentric circles from the point of contact, like ripples in a pond. The voltage will be highest where the electricity first touches the ground and will decrease as the electricity travels outward.

If you take a step and find one foot in an area with a higher voltage than the other, the electricity will use your legs as a path to equalise it. An electric current will flow whenever there's a voltage difference between one point and another, and its flow of electricity (the current) can cause severe injury and death.

Similarly, step potential can affect two people carrying a long conductive object, such as a metal ladder. Electricity can flow up one person's legs, through the object, and down the other person's legs, causing severe injury to both people.

Knowing what to do can save lives

  1. Stay at least 8 metres away
    Stay at least 8 metres away from any fallen powerlines.
  2. Call your communications centre
    Call your communications centre and advise that electricity is involved – they will contact the local electricity distributor.
  3. Advise passengers to remain inside the vehicle
    Advise passengers to remain inside the vehicle. They should not attempt to exit the vehicle until electricity has been switched off.
  4. Create an exclusion zone
    Create an exclusion zone of at least 8 metres around the site and keep bystanders away.
  5. Wait for the all clear
    The electricity distributor will attend, isolate the power and confirm the site is safe for you to approach the incident.

What if the situation becomes life-threatening?

Only if passengers are in life-threatening danger should you consider instructing them to exit the vehicle. Should the danger become life threatening, remember the following when guiding passengers to safety:

  • Remind passengers to touch as little as possible when exiting the vehicle. The car provides protection, so as passengers exit, they need to be extremely careful. 
  • Instruct passengers to take a small and stable jump from the vehicle, landing with both feet firmly planted on the ground, together, and at the same time.  
  • Instruct them to not close the door after exiting, and to not open doors for other passengers. They should not return to the vehicle after they have exited.
  • Passengers should slowly shuffle 8 metres away without moving their feet more than a few inches at a time to minimise the risks of step potential. It is crucial both feet always remain in contact with the ground when shuffling; they should never walk or run from the situation.
  • Avoid water on the ground, which could be energised. 

Look out for electrical assets

Some electrical assets are more obvious than others. The presence of live electricity should be assessed before moving in to respond. Look out for fallen powerlines, kiosks or pillar boxes that could be connected to the electricity network. 

If you suspect electricity is involved, call your communications centre - the electricity distributor will be dispatched immediately to shut off the power. 

Electricity substation
AED defibrillator machine on wall

Electric shocks, injuries and first aid

Electric shocks can be deadly; even mild shocks can affect the heart. A medical assessment is recommended for anyone who has come into contact with electricity.
Learn more

Emergency services should contact their communications centre whenever electricity is involved

your electricity distributor

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Check your electricity distributor's website or social media for updates on power outages.
Electricity distributors in Australia have resources including outage maps that can be accessed online. Many also give live updates via social media.
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Contact your electricity distributor to report fallen wires or damaged poles and powerlines.
If you notice an electrical hazard, report it to your electricity distributor immediately, either online or by phone.