The Issue

What is contact voltage? The issue.

Contact voltage is the result of faults in utility electric systems which cause publicly accessible structures and surfaces to become electrified. These faults pose a serious safety risk to pedestrians and pets.

Contact voltage is most common in areas where residents and businesses have their electricity distributed through underground electric cables and equipment.  Age, wear and tear; and poor workmanship can damage this equipment and cause the electricity to leak. These leaks electrify otherwise harmless objects in their vicinity such as fences, manhole covers, streetlights, and even sidewalks, making them extremely dangerous for humans and pets who touch or tread upon them.  This phenomenon, known as contact voltage has caused injury and death to humans and pets in states across the US including New York, Massachusetts, Nevada, Illinois, Florida, Washington, Rhode Island, Colorado, Hawaii, Georgia, Delaware, California, Arizona, Minnesota, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nebraska, Utah, New Mexico, Maryland, Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Texas to name a few.

Although it is largely invisible to us, we are in close proximity to electric infrastructure which carries lethal levels of current as we go about much of our daily lives. When this infrastructure is compromised, the results are devastating.

The 2004 death of 30 year old Jodie Lane in New York City dramatically raised public awareness about contact voltage and provided the impetus for a research program to develop the equipment and methods necessary to proactively detect potential danger areas in the public right of way. This program resulted in the development of technologies capable of proactively sniffing out even the slightest failures in electric system. Since then these technologies have virtually eliminated instances of contact voltage in cities where they are deployed. Similar systems were developed to detect leaks in underground gas lines and now proactive surveys of gas lines have become standard practice, saving countless lives.

Unlike the widespread adoption of proactive testing in the gas industry, currently only a handful of US electric utilities and cities have ongoing contact voltage testing programs in place. In most cities, the only means of detecting these dangers is through shock, injury and even death of members of the public.

The deterioration of our nation’s infrastructure has been widely acknowledged in recent years and that discussion must expand to include aging underground electric systems.  CVIC is working to create awareness and support regulation and legislation so proactive contact voltage surveys and repair programs become standard practice.

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 make sure your local authorities are focused on proactively keeping our aging infrastructure safe.