SMUD exploring new ways to keep vehicles from hitting power poles

Sacramento Region, CA  |  SMUD Media
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SMUD has installed some measures to mitigate damage to power poles and other electrical equipment by vehicles hitting them. The measures are part of a pilot program designed to increase visibility of and provide some protection to the power poles and to motorists. SMUD has seen an increase in “car-pole” accidents in recent years. The work is part of SMUD’s efforts to enhance public and worker safety and the SMUD grid’s reliability. The photo shows a “Raptor” power pole barrier being installed in Wilton, CA. Photo courtesy SMUD

Sharp rise in incidents can jeopardize safety and power reliability

Sacramento Region, CA (MPG) - SMUD is evaluating several measures to reduce the number of incidents that involve vehicles crashing into the electric utility’s infrastructure, especially power poles. The five-year pilot program aims to increase public and worker safety, and reduce the number of associated power outages.

SMUD data shows an increasing trend of these incidents annually. In 2006 for example, there were 153 “car-pole” accidents. In 2016, there were 271. Increased traffic volume, distracted and unsafe driving, as well as other factors are to blame, but the end result is the same: increased potential for public and worker safety hazards and more power outages.

The pilot program will focus on power poles and electrical equipment that’s been crashed into multiple times over the years. Measures include removing and relocating power poles; redesigning them; installing higher-visibility reflective strips; and installing large, high-visibility protective barriers, known as “Raptor” technology, around the power poles.

The Raptor is big and yellow. It is easily installed at the base of the pole and is designed to absorb the impact of a vehicle crash, sparing the power pole and preventing a power outage for SMUD customers. The Raptor has been used by other utilities and SMUD wants to see if they are a possible solution to improve safety, while making power poles more visible to motorists and more resilient to being damaged if a vehicle collides with the pole.

The main goal of the pilot is enhancing public and worker safety. SMUD takes public safety very seriously Power reliability is also key. While car-pole accidents comprise about five percent of all types of SMUD outages annually, they account for about a quarter of the overall average duration of outages for SMUD’s customers. SMUD’s Board of Directors, elected by SMUD customers to set policy, has made reliability one of SMUD’s core values, so it’s a priority for SMUD staff to fulfill it.

In addition to compromised reliability and safety, power outages caused by car-pole accidents cause loss of revenue to SMUD and increased costs for labor and materials to repair and replace damaged electrical infrastructure. For example, a pole replacement can cost more than $11,000 for the pole, the five-man crew to replace it and other associated expenses for each incident. Beyond SMUD’s costs, pole replacements can take eight hours or more and cost the community’s businesses lost revenue from power outages and associated traffic jams due to lane closures to make the repairs.

SMUD is doing its part to increase public and worker safety and reduce the frequency and duration of outages due to these traffic accidents. SMUD also urges motorists to do their part by driving safely, obeying traffic laws and avoiding anything that may cause distractions. For more information about SMUD and its commitment to public and worker safety, visit SMUD.org.