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For example, my lead acid car battery is rated at 12 V/700 A, whereas my switch mode power supply has 250 V/6.3 A.

If I were to accidentally bump into the +/- pins of either battery (forming a full circuit), which one would be "safer" i.e. cause the least amount of bodily harm?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Once the voltage reaches at least 0.3V or so, body resistance remains equal in any case. \$\endgroup\$ – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams May 24 '15 at 5:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you sure that's the output rating of the SMPS? \$\endgroup\$ – user253751 May 24 '15 at 6:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ While the 12V supply won't shock you, don't bump into its pins with a screwdriver, and REALLY don't carry a metal ladder in the battery room. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Drummond May 24 '15 at 8:58
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The current rating is a maximum current. The current going through your body depends on the voltage applied across it.

Assuming a worst case where you put one hand on each terminal (sending current through your heart) it would take around 10mA to cause powerful muscle contractions that prevent you from letting go. The average hand-to-hand resistance is around 50kOhms (assuming skin is intact).

Doing a bit of mathemagic, you'll find that the 250V source will drive a far higher current through you, making it far more deadly than the 12V battery. Remember, current is determined by the external circuit.

To answer the comment on AC vs DC: AC is generally more dangerous because you have involuntary muscle spasms and can't let go. A high DC voltage is more likely to cause a single contraction and push you away from the source.

Another addition, your skin can actually suffer dielectric breakdown under a sufficiently high voltage. In medical circles, this is called GGWP (ok maybe not). Basically, most of the resistance comes from your skin, once that's gone, it's just conductive salty fluid all the way and that definitely can't be good for you.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Muscle contractions: is this always the case or is there a difference between AC and Dc? \$\endgroup\$ – Ideogram May 24 '15 at 18:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Depends on the current. It generally takes 3 times the direct current to achieve the same reaction. 15mA AC vs 45 mA DC = Cannot let go. \$\endgroup\$ – StainlessSteelRat May 24 '15 at 21:43

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