DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — This year officials with Duke Energy said they have seen an increase in the number of vehicles striking power poles in Durham County, and its left thousands of people in the dark.
According to data from Duke Energy, so far this year there have been 64 power outages linked to public accidents in Durham County and more than 20,000 customers have experienced an outage in just the last there months.
In the last two years, the number of outages linked to vehicles hitting power poles has been on the rise.
From 2019 to 2020, the number of outages from public accidents increased more than 40 percent in Durham County as it went from 115 outages in 2019 to 165 outages in 2020.
“The trend is definitely increasing, and it’s a disturbing trend,” said Jeff Brooks, spokesperson for Duke Energy. “When a vehicle hits a utility pole, it can cost several thousands of dollars to repair that pole and get it back in service. It affects a large number of customers because these are main lines that serve thousands of customers.”
In 2020, for the entire year, 40,000 customers were impacted by similar outages in Durham County.
The number of customers who have experienced outages from similar outages this year has already surpassed 2019’s number as that entire year 20,000 customers were impacted by power outrages related public accidents.
Just from 2019 to 2020, the number of customers impacted doubled.
So why are more people hitting power poles?
Phillip Vereen, Director for the Department of Transportation and Parking for North Carolina Central University (NCCU), said that speeding and alcohol are two leading causes of crashes where individuals hit poles.
However, Vereen said there is now another factor that may be leading to more crashes involving power poles.
“There’s a friction right now, between society reopening,” Vereen said. “We did have less people on the road before, and as a result, there were seeing more people speeding. Now that there’s more people on the road again, people are having to get reacclimated with that. And that’s causing friction.”
Vereen also said that population growth in Durham County and the Triangle may also be a contributing factor.
“People are coming from different areas and having to relearn the area,” Vereen said.
Vereen said as some roadways are expanded, it can leave some poles closer to the road than before.
“In some situations, we can adjust the location of the pole, or add some strength to that pole,” Brooks said.
Brooks also said that Duke Energy is also planning to implement more “self-healing” technology on some of the power poles. This technology detects when there is a power outage and reroutes power to other power lines to minimize the number of people without power.
But overall experts say drivers need to keep their eyes on the road as well.
“The behavior has to change,” Vereen said. “That means slow down, stay off the cell phone, and don’t drink and drive.”