More and more people get behind the wheels of cars these days with a phone or a sandwich in hand — or in any number of other attention-hogging situations — and give less and less of their concentration to driving safely.
“Distracted driving is a costly problem for society in general,” says Ron Salyer, president and CEO of Pioneer Electric Cooperative in Piqua, who has been outspoken in his effort to bring awareness to the issue.
From mere property damage to ruining — or ending — lives, some of those costs are easier to figure out than others. According to a survey of electric cooperatives in Ohio, for example, it costs $2,576, on average, to replace a pole that has been damaged in a car crash. Generally, that’s paid by the driver’s insurance, but not always. There are other costs, too.
Salyer says that depending on the location of such an accident and the type of lines a particular pole carries, those accidents also cause power outages that can affect from a few to a few hundred consumer-members, and those outages can last for hours.
“Those secondary effects on both our members and our line crews actually take a higher toll than just the money that those crashes cost,” he says.
Nearly every lineworker has a horror story about a near-miss on the job, when a distracted driver has made a dangerous job even more precarious. Co-ops have even instituted additional safety measures recently specifically designed to focus drivers’ attention on roadside worksites because of the rise in such incidents.
Sometimes, however, those crashes can have long-term effects on linemen, even when the crews are not directly involved.
In rural areas served by co-ops, the line crews can often be the first people to arrive on an accident scene. “These guys are trained to do the dangerous job of providing reliable electricity, but they don’t have training to cope with some of the awful things they’ve seen at crash scenes,” Salyer says. “I’ve talked with plenty of linemen who have experienced that, and to a one, they all say it’s something that will affect them for the rest of their lives.”