What is contact voltage?

Contact voltage is electrical energy present on a publicly accessible structure or surface. It is caused by faults in buried or internal wiring and poses a safety risk to pedestrians and pets.

Why should you be concerned?

Contact voltage is common in urban areas with underground electric delivery systems and has caused injury and death to humans and pets in several U.S. cities including New York, Boston, Las Vegas, San Diego and Miami. Energized objects such as street lights, hydrants, fences, manhole and construction covers and even sidewalks can conduct power flowing from faults in the system making these objects extremely dangerous for humans and pets.

Why does contact voltage occur?

A large majority of urban areas are serviced by underground utility systems and the deterioration of this country’s infrastructure includes these aging electric delivery systems. Deterioration is often a simple function of age or wear and tear; insulating materials erode over time, construction projects on road surfaces or even simple snow plowing can cause damage to the underground electric lines. Faults in the underground electric delivery system can and do energize objects that are in the public domain.

When is contact voltage a risk?

Weather conditions can increase the risk of electric shock from energized objects. As is commonly known, water and salt – the common “ingredients” of winter – increase electrical conductivity. However, neither water nor salt nor winter weather conditions need be in play for energized objects to pose a threat to pets and pedestrians alike. Contact Voltage is a potential problem anywhere there is a fault in the electric delivery system…no matter what its cause…no matter what the season.

What objects become energized by contact voltage?

Fire hydrants, manhole covers, street lights, construction plates, fences metal mailboxes, fences, bus shelters and even pavement are all examples of objects that can become energized and pose a threat to public safety.

What happens when a person or pet comes in contact with an energized surface?

Simple contact with energized items can cause shock or even death to pets and pedestrians.

Has anyone died from contact voltage?

Yes. The landmark case that inspired the research and development into high-tech detection methods and mandatory remedial programs occurred in 2004 when Jodie Lane was electrocuted in New York City. There have also been deaths in Hawaii, Florida, Ohio, DC, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, California, Missouri, Texas, Arizona, and Las Vegas to name a few.

Have animals died from contact voltage?

Reports of death and shock to family pets can be found all around the US and Canada – recently in Seattle, Denver, Boston, Rhode Island, Miami, Philadelphia, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Vancouver, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Chicago.

What is being done?

In most cities nothing is being done. In a handful of cities Extremely effective, high technology detection methods have been developed. However, too few cities are using this reliable form of detection. CVIC is working to create awareness so proactive surveys and repair programs become standard practice.

Do mobile detection programs work?

The 2004 death of 30 year old Jodie Lane in New York City occasioned the research and development program that resulted in mobile testing. Thereafter the institution of mandatory mobile testing in that metropolitan area has demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that mobile detection is highly effective as the incidents of reported pedestrian/pet shock on an annual basis have been dramatically reduced there.

What other kinds of testing exist?

Some cities and utilities have attempted manual testing programs in which a utility worker individually screens utility company assets (e.g. light poles) with a hand held voltage detector. This testing process and equipment is unreliable and often misses many of the points of danger.


What can I do to help?

Educate yourself as to the facts and the dangers of contact voltage. Learn about how to protect yourself and your pets from this hazard. Refer to our resource pages in order to contact your local officials and bring pressure to bear on authorities to focus on and deal with our aging infrastructure in a proactive way.