Downed and Dangerous: Power Line Safety

January 13, 2022

High Winds, Ice Storms, Heavy Snow, Lightning, Falling Trees and Vehicle Accidents Can Cause Significant Damage to the Electrical Distribution System, Downing Power Lines and Causing Outages

Downed power lines are extremely dangerous. If you see a downed power line, always assume it is energized. Avoid going near the power line or anything in contact with it as objects touching or near the power line can also be energized. You could be shocked by contact with the power line or any secondary objects touching or near the downed wires.

Call 911 or the electric utility provider right away, and keep others away from the area of the downed line.

When a live wire touches the ground, electricity ripples out through the ground, similar to when a rock hits water. The minimum safe distance from a downed power line is 35 feet, but we recommend staying at least 50 feet away until help arrives.

Unlike the movies, power lines do not have to be arcing or sparking to be live. You cannot see, hear or smell electricity, which makes it extremely dangerous. Downed power lines can be live and lethal, even though they might appear de-energized. Anything touching the downed line, including other utility wires, tree limbs, chain link fences or metal culverts, can be energized.

Even if the line is de-energized when you find it, it could become energized during power restoration efforts. It’s always best to stay away until a trained professional line worker fixes the problem.

When you see a downed power line:

  • ALWAYS call to report a downed power line. You can call 911, especially in emergency situations, or Stearns Electric at (800) 962-0655.
  • NEVER use any object to move a downed wire.
  • Rubber gloves and rubber-soled shoes will not protect you from electrocution involving a downed power line. Electricity in our power lines can be 7,200 volts or higher.
  • Electricity can travel through the ground, fences, hoses, tree limbs and playscapes. A live wire, either on the ground or in trees, can harm you, even if you don’t directly touch the power line.
  • Do not try to rescue someone who makes contact with a downed power line. Doing so puts you at risk of becoming a victim. Call 911 for help.
  • Don’t drive over a downed power line or through water that is touching the power line. Driving over the line could cause poles or other equipment to come down.


Accidents can happen any time of the year, but the Cooperative notices an increase in vehicle accidents involving electrical equipment during Minnesota’s icy winters. Knowing what to do if you find yourself in an accident involving high voltage electrical equipment could save your life.

In traumatic situations, such as a vehicle accident, it may be instinctive to flee as soon as possible. However, if you are in an accident with a power line, or other electrical equipment, the safest place you can be is, most likely, in your vehicle.

When a vehicle crashes into a power pole, the pole may fall down, or power lines may fall on your vehicle or on the ground nearby. When this happens, your vehicle and/or the area around it may become charged with electric energy. If you step out of the vehicle in this scenario, your body would become the path to ground for the electricity, and you could be electrocuted.

If you find yourself in a vehicle accident involving a power pole or other electrical equipment, do the following:

  • Stay IN your vehicle (do NOT leave) and warn others to stay away.
  • Call 911 for help.
  • Wait until a professional from Stearns Electric, or other electric utility provider, tells you it is safe to leave your vehicle.

The ONLY reason to exit a vehicle after an accident involving electrical equipment is if it’s on fire. In the rare case of a vehicle fire:

  • Jump clear of the vehicle with your feet together and without touching the car and the ground at the same time.
  • Once you are safely outside of the vehicle, shuffle at least 200 yards away with your feet together.
  • Do not go back to the vehicle to retrieve any items until you are told it is safe to do so by a professional.

If you witness a vehicle collision with a power pole, do not approach the accident. By trying to help, you may put your own life at risk. The best thing to do is contact emergency responders and stay far away from the accident.