How to Drive in a Lightning Storm

How to Drive in a Lightning Storm

Lightning storms result in dozens of fatalities each year. Here’s how to protect yourself from a lightning strike while you’re on the road.

April showers may bring May flowers — but they undoubtedly will also bring thunder and lightning, and the increased risk of severe injury and death. While it is a rare occurrence, being struck by lightning while driving or riding in a vehicle does happen often with deadly consequences.

According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, there are approximately 100,000 thunderstorms in the U.S. each year; 10% of which can be categorized as severe. The region covering Texas to Southern Minnesota experiences the most severe thunderstorm events, but a severe storm is possible in every U.S. region.  Most likely to occur in spring and summer, thunderstorms — which always include lightning  — can occur year-round at all hours of the day.

Lightning strikes killed 39 people in the United States in 2016, according to the National Weather Service. Since 2008, about 28 people die on average from lightning strikes every year, with more being injured.

As these numbers show, being struck by lightning while driving is highly unlikely, but even so the possible consequences aren’t worth playing the odds, taking the following steps will help keep you and your passengers safe in a severe storm.

Staying Safe During a Lightning Storm

The Ford Motor Co. recently offered 8 tips for drivers to stay safe while driving in a thunder and lightning storm:

  • Monitor your local weather forecast. Check for alerts from the National Weather Service, and avoid driving if a warning for a severe thunderstorm is issued. Stay home — if possible — until the alert is over and do not drive until at least 30 minutes after the last thunder clap.
  • Look and listen. Be aware of the sound of thunder, and keep an eye out to see if the skies begin to darken. Flashes of light and stronger winds are also indicators of a storm, in which case it may be best to get off the road and find safety, ideally in a building, until the storm passes.
  • Pull over. If you find yourself in an area affected by lightning, and can do so safely — pull over and turn on your hazards and close your windows.
  • Stop in a safe area. Avoid lower ground and pools of water, in case of flooding. Very high ground should also be avoided, especially if there are single standing trees or telephone poles, since they can conduct lightning and increase your danger of being struck as a consequence.
  • Stay inside your vehicle. If you can’t be inside of a building for safety, remaining in your car is your next best bet. Do not leave your vehicle to take photos or videos of the storm. A hard-top car with the windows completely shut is the best prevention of lightning strikes snaking inside the vehicle.
  • Avoid touching any metal or electronics. This includes your phone and the car stereo. Metals and electronics are conductive surfaces. It is recommended that drivers fold their hands and keep them in their laps so ensure they aren’t touching anything that can conduct electricity.
  • Know your car. A vehicle with a solid metal body is actually safer than a convertible or one with fiberglass shells. When electricity hits a metal car, the energy disperses throughout the body, similar to a Faraday Cage, and into the ground without causing serious injury. Other types of vehicles are less likely to be protected by a lightning strike.

Usually, after lightning strikes your vehicle, it is safe to exit, since the charge—if you’re driving a metal hard-top vehicle—has dispersed into the ground. However, it is recommended that drivers wait until the storm passes, to not risk lightning striking the same place twice — which, contrary to conventional wisdom, can happen.

If the Worst Happens

If one of your passengers is struck by lightning, stay calm and call 911 immediately. If the person has stopped breathing, perform CPR until he or she begins breathing again, or until medical help arrives.

Once a person is struck by lightning, the electric energy will disperse through their bodies and they are safe to touch and render first aid until medical personnel arrive.

While it may be a one-in-a-million chance to get struck by lightning while driving, taking the above precautions will help keep you safe and avoid the worst.

Drive Safely!

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