Four Words Can Save a Life When it Comes to Encountering Downed Power Lines

If you were to come across downed power lines, the best guidance can be summed up in just four words: “Don’t go near them.” That’s it, plain and simple. A downed power line might look harmless; in reality, though, it’s often anything but. You might have to take a long detour in your car to avoid it. It could cause an interruption in your electric service. It may even be weirdly fascinating. But it can also be deadly.

Here are some important things to remember if you happen to encounter a downed line:

  • Always assume a downed power line is live and dangerous. It can still be energized even if you can’t see arcing, sparks, smoke or hear a buzzing sound.
  • Maintain a distance of at least 35 feet from the line (or farther away if conditions are wet), and warn others to stay away.
  • Never attempt to drive over a downed power line or move one with another object — even something like a broomstick or a tree branch. Even normally nonconductive materials can conduct electricity if they are slightly wet.
  • If you’re in a vehicle — even if the lines are not touching it — stay put and call 911. In the aftermath of an accident, resist the urge to get out and inspect damage or check on others who may have been involved. Remain inside until emergency help arrives. Volunteer Energy Cooperative (VEC) will de-energize the line before first responders attempt to help you.
  • If you must exit your vehicle due to fire or smoke, remove any loose clothing, stand on your door frame and jump clear — keeping both feet together and taking care to avoid touching the ground and your vehicle at the same time. Then, keeping your feet close together, shuffle until you’re about three car lengths away from the downed line. Lifting or separating your feet can cause your body to become a “path to ground” and may result in your electrocution.
  • Other things — trees, cars, fences, basketball hoops — might have become energized due to contact with downed power lines and can also pose a danger. Give these objects a wide berth to minimize your risk of electrical shock.
  • If a storm causes downed power lines on your property, call 911 and keep others — including pets — as far away as possible.


By Trent Scott