Science Questions

If my partner is hit by a taser will I be shocked too?

Sun, 19th Apr 2009

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Karen Brown, Essex asked:

If my partner is hit by a taser will I be shocked too?


Dave - That is a great question.  How does a taser work?  Most tasers work by shooting out two little darts.  Behind those two little darts are pieces of wire.  The idea is you get hit by the two darts.  They stick to you so they make a nice electrical connection to you.  Then the taser itself applies a high voltage between those two darts so the current flows between the two of them.  That causes your muscles to contract.  Itís probably high-frequency which disables most of you and you lock-up.  You canít move.  Whether it would affect somebody with whom youíre holding hands Ė you might be able to feel a bit of a shock but itís probably only very small.  Most of the current would be running between the two needles which are stuck into you.  Skin-to-skin contact isnít a very good conductor.  You probably wouldnít get a big shock at all.


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karen brown asked the Naked Scientists: Hi naked peeps While watching one of those American cop shows we were all wondering this: If I am out with my husband, holding hands, and he gets tazered with so many thousand volts, would we get half the volts each? Would he take the full force? Or would I suffer more being the last in line for the shock? I'd like to assure you all that my husband isn't likely to get tazered!! Thank you - looking forward to hearing you again on Sunday :o) Karen from Essex What do you think? karen brown , Thu, 16th Apr 2009

No, I don't think you will, not unless you touch the area between the two probes where the electricity travels. Chemistry4me, Thu, 16th Apr 2009

Yes.  I think that if you're just out walking hand-in-hand and get tasered you'd be more than just a little surprised. LeeE, Thu, 16th Apr 2009

I think you would certainly notice, but the idea is that most of the current flow is between the two probes. graham.d, Thu, 16th Apr 2009

It would depend on what you were wearing on your feet, If you were not insulated you would recieve a shock but not as strong as his. ukmicky, Thu, 16th Apr 2009

Why ukmicky? The taser has two wires with a voltage between them. There should be no significant current flow back via the earth otherwise the guy firing the taser would get a shock too. graham.d, Fri, 17th Apr 2009

So if a bank robber took a hostage by the shoulder and then got tasered would the hostage be able to move away with ease? Or not at all? Maybe a closer study into this matter is needed...? Chemistry4me, Fri, 17th Apr 2009

Yes, probably. I don't think the hostage would be unduly affected unless they were both in a naked embrace. Even then I suspect that effect on the person not directly zapped would not be rendered disabled. graham.d, Fri, 17th Apr 2009

I saw it on TV on one of the U.S Cop shows, the police tazered someone whislt another cop was in contact and he also recieved a shock but nothing to the degree of the Target.

I dont know WHY to be honest as i would have thought that in order to complete the circuit it would have no need to travel through the second person, even if he were grounded.

This is quite funny ukmicky, Fri, 17th Apr 2009

It isn't enough to say that the current "travels between the two contact points. The main flow is in a straight line between but current flows radially around each probe in the same sort of (3 dimensional) pattern as the field lines between two bar magnets (a N pole brought next to a S pole) - if you remember your School stuff. The probe points need to be separated by a finite amount so that you don't just 'frazzle' one small localised region - nearby nerves need to be affected by the spreading out of the current flow.
If there is a particularly high resistance  path between the two points - say one probe hits a strip of insulating clothing - the path of the current could be very different and, if another person were touching the victim in two places (grabbing hold of two arms, for instance) they could get a tingle because the voltage could be a sizeable fraction of the total Tazer volts. lyner, Fri, 17th Apr 2009

Exactly, but the chances of it being anything sizeable is very small, particularly as the taser is designed to penetrate clothing. As the taser points are not far apart the electric field (from a dipole) falls off as the cube of the distance. You don't need much of a shock to notice, but it takes a fair bit to disable you. graham.d, Fri, 17th Apr 2009

I think that the likelihood is that you could get a shock due to some slight imbalance in resistance in the two legs of the tazer circuit. That could appear as a significant voltage difference across two points on the victim's body / clothing. lyner, Fri, 17th Apr 2009

yes, if your hands where full of sweat. no if you ran away from the electrical firing squad.

i proved this by holding a wimshurst machine contact before charging it with a whirl. Then as I spun the machine the electrodes sparked next to my fingers, my brother willow was shocked by touching me.

static electricity could kill you easily. cedar_tree, Sat, 18th Apr 2009

Well you'll get shocked anyway if this 50000 volt taser was used. Chemistry4me, Sat, 18th Apr 2009

I think the biggest risk is if one of the probes misses your partner, and hits you. Then you will feel half of the voltage. evan_au, Fri, 29th Jun 2012

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