We’ve been told over the years that your car is the safest place to be in a lightning storm. Many people think this is because of the rubber in the tires. This is actually a myth—your tires aren’t the reason why your car is safe.
The Myth vs. the Truth
Rubber prevents you from being struck by lightning. This is 100 percent false, and here’s why. This myth can be traced back to as far as the early 1900s, when people were still using bicycles with rubber tires as their main mode of transportation.
The truth is that the rubber does little to nothing to protect you and the car; rather, the metal exterior does all the hard work. According to the Weather Channel’s website, a car’s exterior acts as a moving Faraday cage (a grounded metal screen that surrounds a piece of equipment to prevent damage from electric charges).
When lightning strikes a car, it flows around the outside of the car. In this case, the electrical current typically flows from the car’s metal cage into the ground. Even though you are usually safe inside the car, the National Lightning Safety Institute (NLSI) reports that cars can experience external and internal damage when struck. The possible damage can range from pitting on the exterior to damage to the radio systems and other electrical systems, or even damage to the engine.
What to do When Stuck in a Storm
So, what should you do if your car were to be struck by lightning while driving? The first thing is to not panic, that won’t help. If you’re driving when this occurs, make sure you turn on your hazard lights, pull to the side of the road and turn the engine off.
The next step is to wait out the storm and to not touch anything metal inside the car. It’s safe to touch the hazard lights button and to turn the engine off because most car manufacturers make them with polystyrene—a plastic that is electrical and chemical resistant.
What the NLSI recommends next is folding your hands in your lap so you aren’t tempted to touch anything. It’s safe to exit the vehicle once the electrical current has passed, but if you aren’t sure if that has happened, it’s safest to wait until the storm is over.
It’s easy to believe in some myths when it comes to your safety, especially ones that make you feel protected in your own car. But, knowing the truth is a better bet and it's important to know what to do if your car is struck while driving.
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