Downed power lines: How to avoid safety hazards

Posted on Jun 26 2024 in General, Harrison REMC
David Lett

Power lines crisscross our countryside, bringing the benefits of electricity. But storms or accidents can knock them from their perch and put them on the ground or within reach. Just because they’re down doesn’t mean they’re dead.

“Keeping your distance from downed power lines and knowing what to do if you see one are the first steps to safety,” said David Lett, CEO of Harrison REMC. “There is no way of knowing whether a power line is still live, and if you happen to touch one that is, consequences could be deadly.”

If you see a downed power line, the first step is to move away from it and anything touching it. Keep a distance of 35 feet because the ground around downed power lines may be energized. But if you are in a car, the first step is to stay put.

If power lines fall on the car, the car can become energized. People inside will remain safe — as long as they stay put. Opening a door and stepping out can kill the person leaving the car. Even if power lines are not on the vehicle, they could be hanging low. Fallen power lines are hard to see against trees and foliage, especially at night. Anyone stepping from a car might walk into an energized line and could be electrocuted.

Here are some other basic tips for safety:

  • If you see someone in direct or indirect contact with a downed line, do not touch him or her. Call 911 for assistance.
  • Never attempt to move a downed power line or anything else in contact with it using an object such as a broom or stick. If your vehicle comes in contact with a downed power line while you’re in the vehicle, stay inside the car. Call 911 or honk your horn to get help. Tell bystanders to stay away from the vehicle.
  • If you must exit the vehicle for life-threatening reasons, do it safely.


If you must exit a vehicle that has come in contact with power lines, follow these important steps.

  • Open the door without touching the metal door frame.
  • Jump out and away from the vehicle. Do not touch the vehicle and the ground simultaneously with any part of your body or clothing.
  • Jump with both feet together so both feet land at the same time. Maintain your balance.
  • Shuffle away so the toe of one foot shuffles forward along the length of the other foot, ensuring both are in constant contact and always touching the ground.
  • Keep shuffling 30 or more feet until you are safely away from the car and power line.
  • Watch for low-hanging power lines or lines on the ground.
  • Never attempt to get back into a vehicle in contact with a power line after you are safely away.