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AC or DC – Which One is More Dangerous And Why ?

Which is More Dangerous – AC or DC?

First of all, keep in mind that both AC and DC voltage and Current are dangerous and hazardous. Both are our friends and worst enemies as well as they wont miss if you give it a chance. 

demonstration of ac and dc
Fig – 1 Difference Between AC & DC

AC is more serial killer as AC with less frequency (50 Hz in EU and 60 Hz in US) is more dangerous than the DC having the same level of voltage. In other words, 230V AC (or 120V AC) is more dangerous than 230V DC or 120V DC respectively. But keep in mind that DC has the ability to roast you i.e. if we say AC is more dangerous, it doesn’t mean that DC will only play with you. Stay away and don’t trust on both.

AC voltage and current with low frequency i.e. 50 Hz or 60 Hz is more dangerous than AC with higher frequency (say 500 0r 600 Hz). Same is the case i.e. AC Currents and voltages are three to five times more dangerous than DC having the same level of voltage.

In case of DC voltage and currents, It causes a single convulsive contraction (a jerky and uncontrollable process in which muscles become shorter and tighter) which pushes the victim away from the DC current or voltage source they touched.

In case of AC voltage and currents, it causes tetany (a condition marked by intermittent muscular spasms) or extended muscle contraction which leads to freeze the victim (or part(s) of the body) touching the AC voltage or current source.

Which is More Dangerous - AC or DC

Due to the alternating nature behavior of AC, it causes to heart’s pacemaker neurons into atrial fibrillation which is more dangerous than DC, where cardiac standstill (due to ventricular fibrillation) occurs in case of electric shock. In this case, there is a better chance for “frozen heart” to get back on the normal track as compared to fibrillating heart caused by AC. In that cases, defibrillating equipment (which supply DC units to halt the fibrillation and bring back the heart to the normal condition) are used as emergency medical service.

Generally, the final decision depends on multiple factors like, human body resistance, wet or dry skin or place,  thickness of the skin, weight, sex, age, level of current and voltages, frequency etc.

If we consider the minimum level of AC and DC voltages, 50V AC in Dry condition and 25V in humid and wet places and up to 120V DC are considered safe in case of direct or indirect contacts with electrical installations. The above statement and the following table shows that AC Current and Voltage are more dangerous than DC.

For example, In case of AC, the safest limit is 50V (or 25V in humid) where in DC, the safe limit is 120V DC. Same is the case for current, i.e. lower currents are needed for the same effect on human body is compared to DC which is low. The following table shows the story of AC and DC and its effects on human body.

Always Remember: Current Kills, Not the Voltage. But Voltage is must to drive the Current. I.e. Amperes are responsible for electrocution, Not the Volts.

AC in mA (50Hz)DC in mAEffects
0.5 – 1.50.4Perception
1.34 – 15Surprise
3 – 2215 – 88Let’s Go (Reflex Action)
22 – 4080 – 160Muscular Inhibition
40 – 100160 – 300Respiratory Block
More than 100More than 300Usually Fatal
Electrical Shock Hazards & Effects on Human Body
Electrical Shock Hazards & Effects on Human Body

Why AC is More Dangerous than DC?

Following are some reasons showing that AC is more dangerous than DC.

RMS and Peak Value

The domestic supply in our homes are 230V AC (in EU) and 120V AC in US. It is the effective or RMS Voltage. It means that alternating voltage available has the same heating effect as 230V DC or 120V AC respectivly.

The equation of this alternating current is

V = Vm Sin ω t

Where

  • Vm = √2 VRMS
  • ω = 2πf  … (f = 50 0r 60 Hz Frequency)

Putting the values and solving for Voltage:

230 x √2 Sin x 2 (3.1415) x 50Hz x t

230 x √2 Sin x 314 x t Volts.

Now the Peak Value of AC Voltage or Current, (this doesn’t apply on DC due to the alternating sinusoidal waves of AC).

VRMS = VPK /√2     or    VRMS = 0.707 x VPK

Similarly,

IRMS = IPK /√2     or    IRMS = 0.707 x IPK

Using the above formula, we find the value of AC Peak Voltage and Current as follow

VPK = √2 x VRMS     and    IPK = √2 x IRMS

To calculate the max or peak value of AC Voltage for our homes supply (where home supply is 230V or 120V AC)

VPK = 0.707 x 230V = 325V AC (or 170V Peak AC in case of 120V AC home supply).

The above calculation shows that our home supply voltage which is 230V AC or 120V AC are RMS voltages and the Peak voltages of these RMS voltages are 325V or 170V or 650 peak to peak or 320 peak to peak voltages.
Respectively, whereas DC has only RMS value which is contact i.e 230V DC or 120V DC.

In other words, for both AC and DC having the same level of Voltage, AC turns out more about 325V or 170V i.e. its more than it appears and yes, the more voltage, the high chance of electrocution. In short, More DC voltage or current is needed to induce the same hazardous effect as AC voltage and current.

Capacitance

A victim body acts an insulating medium between the live wire and ground leading to capacitance. But we know that a capacitor blocks DC while AC can pass through it. Let’s see methamaticlly,

  • Frequency in DC = 0Hz
  • Frequency in AC = 50 or 60 Hz.

Resistance in DC:

XC = 1/2πfC in Ω

If we put “f = frequency” as zero, then the capacitive reactance (XC) would be infinite. That’s why capacitor blocks DC to pass through it.

Now resistance in AC (also known as impedance)

Impedance Z = √ (R2 + XC2)

If we put frequency as 50 or 60Hz, the overall impedance (i.e. resistance) would decreased. This way, AC has the ability to easily pass through the capacitor. It means AC is more dangerous than DC in case when human body act as a capacitor.

In short, the impedance and resistance in DC is lower than AC as it decreases when frequency increases. This way, AC is more harmful than DC.

Frequency

Some having the concept that DC is more dangerous than AC with the same level of voltage because AC changes it direction multiple times (i.e. AC touches the zero value 50 or 60 times) per second due to frequency and there is a chance for victim to skip the shock, whereas there is no frequency in DC.

Now if we consider the frequency as 60 or 50Hz, lets see how fast AC changes its direction.

T = 1/f

T = 1/60Hz = 0.20 Seconds.

It shows that AC touches the zero point in after each 0.20 seconds, where human brain is not that much faster (except the unintentional functions) to response to electric shock and move back from the voltage source.

50 or 60Hz frequency play an important rule and electric shock effect on the human body. For example, low voltage about 25V AC with 60 Hz are harmful (wet and humid body).Why AC is More Dangerous than DC

Note: Both AC and DC voltages and currents are dangerous. Don’t touch the live wires. In case of electric shock, try to disconnect the power supply and push back the victim body from the source (keep in mind that you should properly insulated before doing so). Only call the professional electrical in case of repairing or troubleshooting. In case of emergency, call the local authority ASAP.

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9 Comments

  1. Why we don’t use large capacitor in place of batteries to store electrical energy?

    1. Arunmurotia says:

      Battery can store DC and supply when required but capacitor can supply for single use.

  2. For sake of electric shock dc power is more dangerous than single ac power . For simple comparison in 230 volt DC and Ac , ac can be zero for 50 times in a sec but DC won’t be zero so it won’t let you through away from shock.but ac does do that.

  3. Brahmanath says:

    At. High voltage both,
    At. Low. Voltage,AC.

  4. Arunmurotia says:

    Both with high amps, voltage doesn’t matter.

  5. Arunmurotia says:

    A car ignition coil supply about 26000 volts but not dangerous due to low amperage.

  6. PRODYUT GHOSH says:

    Ac is more dangerous than Dc. Alternating current has got peak value fifty times in a second which is higher than steady value of dc. (Equivalent RMS of ac)

  7. Set averages and effective values aside. A more fair comparison would be DC vs PEAK value of AC.

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