It is often said that the safest place during a thunderstorm is a car, but how true is this? A car certainly doesn’t seem that safe. One would think the glass could break, or the electricity could penetrate the metal exterior of the car. It may be surprising to learn that this is not the case at all.
As stated by the National Lightning Safety Institute, a person inside a fully enclosed metal car is likely safe from a direct lightning strike if they are not touching any part of the car that is connected to the exterior. This includes door handles, the radio and the steering wheel. This “skin effect” is caused by the lightning conducting throughout the outer shell of the car, while the inside remains unaffected. It is best to pull over and let the storm pass to avoid touching any objects that could conduct electricity.
Of course the idea of lightning conducting solely on the exterior of a car is only true if the car is not a convertible or wet. It is likely, however, that a car will be wet when lightning strikes it simply because lightning is often accompanied with rain, so it is important not to touch anything that can conduct electricity until the storm has fully passed, which includes the steering wheel. It may be tempting to pull over immediately, but besides the risk of electrocution by touching conducting parts, there car may not function the same after a strike. It is better to do a damage assessment when the storm is over.
Lightning is extremely hot, so there is also a chance that a car struck by lightning can catch on fire. If this is the case, it is best to get out of the car to avoid getting burned or worse, being trapped within the car by flames. Convertibles are particularly vulnerable to catching fire because they have flammable material for a roof, which means they don’t offer as much safety as other cars might.
Based on information from the National Lightning Safety Institute, if a car is struck by lightning, it is best not to panic and to simply wait out the storm before assessing the damage. Furthermore, if a car is on fire, it is logical to get a safe distance away from it to avoid getting burnt. Though it is very unlikely that a car will be struck by lightning, following these simple steps can help prevent any fatalities.