# Why is AC more "dangerous" than DC?

After going through several forums, I became more confused whether it is DC or AC that is more dangerous. In my text book, it is written that the peak value of AC is greater than that of DC, which is why it tends to be dangerous. Some people in other forums were saying that DC will hold you, since it doesn't have zero crossing like that of AC. Many others also say that our heart tries to beat with the frequency of ac which the heart cannot support leading to people's death. What is the actual thing that matters most?

After all, which is more dangerous? AC or DC?

• I think he means that, since he clearly describes it in his question Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 3:04
• No, it's not! Depends on lots of factors. People have given good answers. But here's a fun fact. A US Navy guy died out of a 9V DC battery. The spark which you see off metal door knobs and sweaters in winter are a minimum of 10,000 V. I didn't die of it. It's the current that matters Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 3:57
• well zero crossing is the term which i found by reading the answers from other forum.and i too used it here because i thought that in ac when moving from positive peak voltage to negative peak voltage it crosses zero. Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 7:42
• TIL: ' "AC/DC" is an abbreviation meaning "alternating current/direct current" electricity. The brothers felt that this name symbolised the band's raw energy, power-driven performances of their music.'
– BCLC
Commented Sep 12, 2021 at 19:36

The RMS (root-mean square) value of an AC voltage, which is what is represented as "110 V" or "120 V" or "240 V" is lower than the electricity's peak voltage. Alternating current has a sinusoidal voltage, that's how it alternates. So yes, it's more than it appears, but not by a terrific amount. 120 V RMS turns out to be about 170 V peak-to-ground.

I remember hearing once that it is current, not voltage, that is dangerous to the human body. This page describes it well. According to them, if more than 100 mA makes it through your body, AC or DC, you're probably dead.

One of the reasons that AC might be considered more dangerous is that it arguably has more ways of getting into your body. Since the voltage alternates, it can cause current to enter and exit your body even without a closed loop, since your body (and what ground it's attached to) has capacitance. DC cannot do that. Also, AC is quite easily stepped up to higher voltages using transformers, while with DC that requires some relatively elaborate electronics. Finally, while your skin has a fairly high resistance to protect you, and the air is also a terrific insulator as long as you're not touching any wires, sometimes the inductance of AC transformers can cause high-voltage sparks that break down the air and I imagine can get through your skin a bit as well.

Also, like you mentioned, the heart is controlled by electric pulses and repeated pulses of electricity can throw this off quite a bit and cause a heart attack. However, I don't think that this is unique to alternating current. I read once about an unfortunate young man that was learning about electricity and wanted to measure the resistance of his own body. He took a multimeter and set a lead to each thumb. By accident or by stupidity, he punctured both thumbs with the leads, and the small (I imagine it to be 9 V) battery in the multimeter caused a current in his bloodstream, and he died on the spot. So maybe ignorance is more dangerous than either AC or DC.

• Do you have a source for that "death by 9V battery through blood stream" story? Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 13:56
• +1 for 'ignorance is more dangerous than either AC or DC' (although I would have said "stupidity")
– sds
Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 14:19
• @us2012 I read the story in a book or something by the infamous Darwin Awards. Commented Mar 31, 2013 at 0:19
• I doubt that 9V death story is true.
– user
Commented Apr 27, 2015 at 16:24
• I also strongly doubt the validity of that 9V death story. An 'old school' trick to test whether a 9V battery is empty, is to put both contacts on your tongue. If it tingles, you know there is a current and the battery still has some juice. I did this several times to check a battery, and so far I didn't die. Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 19:41

Direct current (DC), because it moves with continuous motion through a conductor, has the tendency to induce muscular tetanus quite readily. Alternating current (AC), because it alternately reverses direction of motion, provides brief moments of opportunity for an afflicted muscle to relax between alternations. Thus, from the concern of becoming "froze on the circuit," DC is more dangerous than AC.

However, AC's alternating nature has a greater tendency to throw the heart's pacemaker neurons into a condition of fibrillation, whereas DC tends to just make the heart stand still. Once the shock current is halted, a "frozen" heart has a better chance of regaining a normal beat pattern than a fibrillating heart. This is why "defibrillating" equipment used by emergency medics works: the jolt of current supplied by the defibrillator unit is DC, which halts fibrillation and gives the heart a chance to recover.

There is a table with bodily effects at http://www.allaboutcircuits.com/vol_1/chpt_3/4.html

If you have a dc voltage of $$x$$ volts, this is the maximum voltage you can get from it.

If you have an ac voltage of $$x$$ volts, the maximum voltage is more than $$x$$ (I forgot how to calculate it, maybe it $$x\sqrt2$$, someone correct me if I'm wrong). This is because the voltage rating is the average of the oscillating voltage (after taking all positive).

And, a higher voltage means more dangerous, right?

EDIT: Check this wikipedia example out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternating_current#Example

i think its depends upon the relative value of rms value of AC and absolute value of DC. sir if we touch a AC carrying wire with one hand ,current will not flow in our body if we not connected to ground(potential difference zero= no current). but as we touch wire our body potential reach the value of wire potential, can our body support such a high potential? that may be cause of shock or death. pls correct me if m wrong.

DC is more dangerous in one respect in that it causes more electrolysis in the tissues than AC.

• Nonsense. This applies only to very hight currents. The predominant danger in electrical shocks is ventricular fibrillation, which occurs with a very much higher probability due to AC shock than DC shock. Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 20:10
• – user56903
Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 9:35

Realistically (statistically) speaking, AC is more dangerous that DC. This comes from the fact that 120/240v AC is the voltage that we are most likely to encounter - which can kill us. The DC voltage that we are most likely to encounter is 12 DC (in our vehicles), and it is very unlikely to kill us.

For the case that we are just evaluating equivalent RMS AC vs DC, the AC would be more lethal, as explained in the other responses.

• Watch this video from ElectroBOOM. youtu.be/snk3C4m44SY The reason AC is for humans many times more dangerous than DC has to do with the fact that the human skin does not only act as a resistance where the higher the voltage the higher the current. the main thing is that the human body can act as a capacitor. whilr DC current does not go through a capacitor AC does build up charge. so on a dc corcuit your skin is acting like a very strong resistance and on ac corcuit like a capacitor. you see that electro boom does not even try to touch 120 AC but he has no problem touching 170 DC. Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 18:29