Power lines are the veins of energy distribution across the country. These vital connections help your local cooperative send electricity to homes, businesses and schools in their service area.

While these lines are essential for power distribution, extreme events can cause them to fall, creating a dangerous situation. Keep reading to learn more about how downed power lines can pose a threat to your safety and what to do if you come across one.

Downed Power Line: Don’t Meet Your Potential

You may have heard about reaching your potential in your academic or professional career. However, you want to steer clear of meeting two potential outcomes when it comes to downed power lines: touch and step potential.

Downed Power Line: Touch Potential

Touch potential is the voltage between the energized grounded object and the person’s feet in contact with the object.

For example, touch potential could happen if a person has a vehicle accident involving a power line, then tries to exit their vehicle while a live power line is touching it. If they have one hand on the outside of the car and touch the ground with one foot, electricity can flow from the vehicle through the body to their foot.

Downed Power Line: Step Potential

Step potential is the voltage difference between the feet of a person near an energized, grounded object. 

Think of what it looks like when you throw a stone into a lake; energy from downed power lines has a ripple effect across the energized surface of the ground. As it goes out from the center, the voltage becomes lower with each “ring.” If you step from a higher voltage “ring” into a lower voltage “ring” or vice versa, this is where the danger comes in. The higher voltage goes into one leg and out the other.

If someone walks with a regular stride to or away from a downed power line, your body will act as the conductor as it has less resistance than the ground does. 

While the area around a downed power line may look safe, energy can travel several yards away from the point of origin. Learn more about this topic and how to stay safe by listening to our vehicle crash safety podcast.

Downed Power Line Safety: Common Scenarios

Car Crash

Unfortunately, vehicle accidents with power lines happen every year. What’s most frightening is that the initial impact may not harm the driver, but the downed lines can cause electrocution if the driver gets out of the car unsafely.

If you are in a car accident involving a power line, stay in your car and call your local cooperative or emergency services. The only reason to exit the vehicle before help arrives is if the vehicle is on fire. In this instance, jump away from the vehicle with both feet together so your body clears the vehicle before touching the ground. Land with both feet together. Shuffle or hop away at least 50 feet or further.

Check out our safety tips page and podcast for more information on how to stay safe if power lines fall on your vehicle.

Natural Disaster

Tornadoes, floods and other intense storms can bring down power lines, leaving them strung across your home, road or neighborhood. If this happens, it’s best to try to stay at least 50 feet away from the downed lines.

Downed Power Line Safety: Call Your Local Cooperative

Don’t try to move a downed power line yourself. If you see downed power lines on someone else’s car, don’t get near them. Putting yourself at risk won’t improve your situation.

If you see a downed power line, call 9-1-1, then call your local electric cooperative to make them aware of the situation. Your cooperative will send a response team to handle the situation safely.

Are you looking for more ways to stay safe from electrical dangers? Visit our blog for more great information on electrical safety tips.