Protect yourself by learning the four common myths about power lines

Electric power lines are all around us, but most people really don’t know very much about them, says Indiana Electric Cooperatives.

“Misconceptions about power lines can put people in serious danger,” says Rick Coons, CEO at Indiana Electric Cooperatives (IEC). “That’s why dealing with power lines and electricity is best left to professionals like our co-op’s linemen and licensed electricians.

IEC has identified four common myths about power lines that put people at risk of being electrocuted and damaging their property.

Myth 1: Outdoor power lines carry the same 110-volt electricity that we use in our homes.

Reality: In Indiana, most of the power lines along the road actually carry 7,200 volts, and it’s not unusual for some of those lines to carry 14,000-volt circuits. In bigger towns and cities, there are even lines carrying more than 19,000 volts. Coming in contact with any of those voltages would be deadly. It’s impossible to tell what voltage a wire may be carrying just from looking at it or whether a particular wire carries electricity, phone service, or cable TV.

Myth 2: All power lines are insulated.

Reality: This is usually not the case. When people see birds perching on wires, they assume that the lines must have heavy insulation. Birds don’t get electrocuted when they are touching wires because they don’t represent a path to ground, giving the electricity nowhere to go but back to the wire. If the bird happens to touch two wires at once, or a wire and a ground, they will get electrocuted.

Myth 3: When a power line falls on the ground, it automatically becomes dead.

Reality: That’s just not the case. There’s a good chance that the line is still energized, and that means the surrounding ground and any metal objects nearby may also be energized. Even if you don’t see sparks, you should stay at least 20 feet away from the line to be safe. Always assume that a downed line is a live line.

Myth 4: Power lines have safety devices that automatically shut off the power if a line breaks or touches something.

Reality: Power lines are never safe to touch. Even a fallen power line can re-energize at any time. Follow these tips for downed power lines.

  • Call your electric cooperative or 911 immediately.
  • Never use a stick or other object to move downed lines, because they may conduct electricity.
  • If power lines fall on your car or truck, stay inside and wait for rescue professionals to help you (unless your vehicle is on fire).
  • Never drive over downed power lines.
  • If someone has touched a power line, do not attempt to pull them away, or you will be shocked, too. Instead, call 911 right away.

Electricity doesn’t usually give people a second chance, so it’s important to do everything possible to avoid coming in contact.

SOURCES: Chuck Thiemann, Indiana Statewide Association of REC, Austin Energy, Electrical Safety Foundation International, OSH, Pacific Gas & Electric.