Overhead Power Lines and Safety
Americans, especially New Yorkers have so much for which to be thankful and are lucky enough to have invested greatly in infrastructure. Unfortunately, many power lines are still overhead, strung from house to house from wooden poles. Underground lines are preferable because they don't experience stress from wind and can't be felled by a car that accidentally skids off of the road. In order to put the lines underground, of course, workers must be paid to get the job done. All too often, New York municipalities and utility companies choose to delay this work in order to reduce costs and keep your New York electricity bills down. Here's what you need to know about overhead power lines and how to keep yourself safe when one of them falls.
While the power in your home probably provides 120 volts, the New York municipal power system needs the flexibility to provide much more. As Timothy Thiele notes, the amount of voltage allowed in overhead lines depends on the clearance (how high they are). The lower the line, the lower the power load the wires are allowed to carry. For example, in most places, there is a minimum of a twelve-foot clearance for wires carrying 300 volts that are located over driveways.
Power lines aren't the only pieces of equipment located on utility poles. You will also find transformers that increase or decrease the voltage of the electricity in the wires. These boxes also, in some ways, act as a fuse, helping to protect your home from dangerous over- or under-voltage. From time to time, particularly in the hottest days of summer, fluctuations in the power supply can burn out these transformers. In extreme situations, small fires can burn out these boxes, sending drops of molten aluminum to the driveway. (If you are unlucky, your car is parked in the end of the driveway when this happens.)
Thanks to the decades of excellent service Americans have received from utility companies, something like a downed overhead line can seem very much like a novelty. If it's raining, the live wire could be crackling, dancing upon the pavement, creating beautiful sparks and the smell of ozone. Beautiful things such as these, of course, can be extremely dangerous, and it does not pay to treat downed lines lightly.
As the Occupational Safety and Health Administration notes, a downed power line means that a big, powerful electrical circuit has been broken, and you should leave it to the professionals to figure out where. Even if the cable isn't sparking or making any sound, it could still carry hundreds of volts of electricity. Therefore:
You should always consider all power lines and other equipment to be live.
Never drive your car over downed lines; even though it is possible for your car to insulate you from a possible charge, it's not a chance you want to take. (Having the line get caught in your car is also a scary possibility.)
Beware of low-hanging lines, as well. During snow or ice storms, it's quite common for lines to be weighed down. Once the ice has melted, they should return to their previous position.
Don't make contact with people who appear to be receiving a shock. If you do, the charge may be transmitted to you. (Humans are mostly water, and water is a great conductor.)
Remember that, in spite of the fact that overhead power cables resemble the power cords you plug into your home's outlets, they are not insulated. The Southwestern Electric Power Company reminds you that this material is actually weatherproofing: material designed to keep the elements out of the wire.
Should you find yourself uncomfortably close to power lines, Florida Power and Light advises you to hop or shuffle away from the downed equipment to try and reduce the risk of shock.
Whenever you suspect a problem with the overhead power lines near your home, you shouldn't take any chances: call your New York electricity company. Further, you should remain vigilant and take an occasional look at the power poles on your property. As well as you can, examine utility poles for cracks or a loose fitting in the ground.
Just like taxes, downed or drooping power lines are a constant in residential areas. These safety tips can help prevent tragedy, particularly if you teach them to children as soon as they're able to understand.