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Legal experts shares advice on dealing with potentially deadly downed power lines

With the storms across Michigan earlier this month, and likely more to come, we sought out some advice on staying safe with downed power lines.

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With the storms across Michigan earlier this month, and likely more to come, we sought out some advice on staying safe with downed power lines.  

Michigan Auto Law Attorney Brandon Hewitt joined us, along with Attorney Jeff Feldman, who specializes in electrocution injuries.  Feldman said the most important thing to know is that any downed power line you may encounter should be treated as if it is live.  Beyond that, Feldman and Hewitt reacted to a variety of scenarios:

You’re diving after a storm and encounter downed powerlines near the road. 

  • Stay away from the downed power lines
  • Stay in your vehicle
  • Warn others to stay away from the downed powerlines
  • Call 9-1-1
  • Call the utility company
  • Do not drive over a downed powerline. It might get tangled in your wheels or undercarriage and might pull down utility poles or other dangerous equipment. Your tires will not protect you if you drive over a downed powerline, and they might even burn or explode. (A high voltage electric arc can be 35,00o degrees F; the surface of the sun is 10,000 degrees F, and the melting point of iron is 2,800 degrees F.)

A power line comes down ON YOUR CAR while you’re in it.

  • This is a very dangerous situation because it means your vehicle - and the ground around you and your vehicle - is likely now energized and capable of electrocuting you
  • Stay inside your car if it is safe to do so
  • Call 9-1-1
  • Call the utility company
  • Warn others to stay away
  • Remain inside your vehicle until the utility company workers and/or fire department and/or police confirm with you that the downed power lines have been deenergized and that it is safe for you to exit your vehicle

Downed power lines cause your car to catch fire.

  • Make sure you are not wearing any loose items of clothing – remove them if you are
  • Open your vehicle door, but DO NOT step out
  • Stand on the edge of the vehicle’s door frame, put your hands by your sides or cross your arms, then jump clear of your vehicle (without touching any part of the vehicle)
  • Make sure that you ARE NOT touching any part of your car when your feet hit the ground
  • Keep your feet close together and DO NOT pick or lift them up off the ground, then shuffle away from your vehicle (keeping your feet in contact with the ground at all times)
  • Alternatively, keep your feet close together and hop away (keeping your feet together at all times)
  • If you experience any tingling sensations in your feet or legs, continue to shuffle or hop away from your car until the tingling sensations stop

How is a person safe from electrocution inside a car?

  • MYTH: Some people think that because the tires are rubber, and thus not conductive, the electrical current cannot find the ground the vehicle and its occupants.
  • FACT: It is not your tires that insulate and protect you when a downed power line is on or is otherwise making contact with your vehicle. Instead, the metal cage construction of the car spreads the electrical current/power around the car, and the power/electrical current goes to ground through the tires. It creates a “Faraday Cage” that protects occupants inside. HOWEVER, in order for you to be protected inside your vehicle, it is very important that you DO NOT touch any of the metal components of your vehicle.

If a power outage has knocked-out the traffic lights`, treat the intersection as a 4-way stop.

  • It is important to know how to proceed when you encounter an intersection where a storm or power outage in the area has left the traffic signals non-functioning or malfunctioning
  • Stop before entering the intersection
  • Yield the right of way to vehicles that will be an “immediate hazard” to you as you attempt to drive through the intersection
  • Yield the right of way to vehicles that are already in the intersection as you are approaching
  • If you and another vehicle arrive at the intersection at the same time, yield the right of way to the vehicle on your right
  • “Exercise ordinary care” when you do drive through the intersection


If you have more questions and want to speak with an attorney contact Michigan Auto Law:



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