The Dangers of Downed Electrical Wires from a Car Accident

Michigan Auto Law

People are electrocuted and killed after car crashes every year. Tragically, it is not the car accident itself that causes their fatal injuries, but it is their deadly exposure to high voltage electricity that occurs when a crash results in electrical lines being downed.

Either while they are still in their vehicles or once they have exited them, people can come into contact with a source of electricity such as a downed power line or the rippling rings of voltage that are given off by a conductor of electricity.

It is essential that you have a safety plan to protect you and your family in case you are involved in a car accident that potentially involves the exposure to electricity due to a downed wire falling on your car, downed or damaged utility poles or damage to other electricity sources.

The danger of being electrocuted after a car crash

Everyone involved in and present for a car accident that results in downed electrical lines faces the risk of suffering serious or fatal injuries from being electrocuted. This applies not only to the drivers and occupants of the vehicles involved, but also to pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, bystanders and witnesses who may be near to or in the vicinity of the car accident.

The reason the risk affects so many people is because direct contact with a live wire is not the only way that a serious electrical injury or death can occur. They can happen even if a person is merely in close proximity to the electrical source.

Not touching the downed wire? It still can kill or injure you

What most people do not know is that a live, downed wire can cause them serious injury – or kill them – even if they do not touch or otherwise make direct contact with the electrical line.

Just being within 35 feet of a downed electrical wire - such as if you were walking toward it because you wanted to help and provide aid to the people who have been injured - can cause you to be electrocuted.

This phenomenon is called the “step potential,” As Jeff Feldman, an electrocution accident attorney who has focused his career on electrocution death and shock injury cases explains, the “step potential” means that as you walk toward the conductor of the electricity — whether it is an actual downed wire or a crashed vehicle upon which the line has landed — you are entering or “stepping” into invisible, rippling rings of voltage.

Each step, therefore, could potentially land you in different, increasingly higher rings of voltage, resulting in the electrical current surging through your body.

Getting distance from the hazard

If you are outside of your vehicle - or if you are a witness or bystander - and you are near an electrical line, then you should use one of the following methods to get yourself to safety:

  • Put your feet together — keeping them in constant contact — and shuffle so that one foot shuffles forward along the length of the other foot, ensuring that both feet are in constant contact and always touching the ground.
  • Do a bunny hop by putting your feet together and hopping out of the area.

In the vehicle? Here’s how to get out

If you are in the car that has made contact with the downed wire, you should first call 9-1-1 immediately to report the crash as an emergency, then call the power company.

If moving your vehicle will compromise the downed electrical line, cause a utility pole to fall or otherwise increase your risk of exposure to a source of electricity, then you should remain in your car or truck until the power company arrives and a utility worker informs you that it is safe to exit your vehicle.

If an impending emergency – such as fire under the hood of your car – makes it necessary that you immediately vacate your vehicle before the utility company and/or the first responders arrive at the crash scene, then follow these steps to stay safe:

  • First, open the door, but do not touch the metal door frame of your car or the car’s shell, as the metal could serve as a conduit for the downed wire’s voltage, especially if the downed wire is laying on your vehicle
  • Second, make a clear jump out of the car, being sure to not touch the vehicle and the ground at the same time with any part of your body or clothing
  • Third, make sure both of your feet are together so that they land at the same time on the ground (if you are holding a baby, hold him or her closely to you as you jump)
  • Fourth, use the shuffle or bunny hop method to get to safety

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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