QuickCheck: Are you safe from lightning while in your car?

THE scary reality is that your car can attract lightning, especially when you are driving through a thunderstorm in a flat, open space, such as padi fields or areas without trees or buildings nearby. Is it true that your vehicle can protect you from lightning?



The good news is that being inside your car in such a scenario is safer than being outside of it - where you are exposed to the elements - as the car can offer you some measure of protection.

The metal shell of your car channels the 300 million-odd volt lightning bolt around the exterior of the car and into the ground, says the Insurance Information Institute.

Hide in the car with the windows up during a thunderstorm and do not touch the outside or any metal parts of the car, advised Airborne Research Australia.

You will notice that in modern cars, no part of the interior that you can touch is made of metal and for good reason.

The seeming miracle of having millions of volts flow down harmlessly within centimetres of you while you are in the car is a phenomenon called the Faraday Cage, tested repeatedly by British scientist William Faraday between the 1700s and 1800s.

Using himself, he proved that while inside a metal cage, he was utterly safe no matter how the cage was blasted with electricity because the blasts could never get into the interior of the cage.

However, it's important to note that if your car is a convertible with the top down or has a plastic or non-metallic shell like some sports cars, it'll offer you no protection at all.

Also, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that your car may not survive being struck by lightning.

The electronic components will likely fry and even catch fire.

Depending on where the bolt hits, the sheer heat of the bolt can make your windshield or window shatter.

One or more of your tyres will melt because although it looks like rubber to you, car tyres are actually thickly lined with steel belts inside and a few centimetres of rubber will not stop a lightning bolt from passing through to reach the ground.


1. https://www.weather.gov/safety/lightning-cars

2. https://www.iii.org/article/lightning-safety-10-myths-and-the-facts

3. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-12/what-should-you-do-in-a-lightning-storm-if-you-are-in-a-car/7835032

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