Car Safety In Thunder Storms

If you’ve ever driven through a severe thunderstorm you know the trepidation of a driver who can’t race home fast enough to safety. That surge of urgency and apprehension as you see and hear lightning crackling over the distance, hoping you’re safe inside your vehicle. Are you?

With the recent summer cyclonic activity and now wetter weather than seasonally forecasted for March to May, Australians face the dilemma of relief from hot dry spells and the potential havoc caused by our savage storms. Aside from a storm’s inherent power to disrupt lives through sparking fires across homes from the bush to across cities, shutting down airports and services, it can cripple our daily lives leaving our schools, homes and businesses without power for days and even weeks on end.

While thunderstorms can be an inevitable inconvenience, nothing is quite as tragic as lives lost to freak weather. Besides fires, floods and strong winds, lightning strikes seem least on anyone’s concerns considering its odds but nevertheless can endanger our lives with the power to inflict serious injury and even death.

Lightning McQueen in all his glory

Faster than lightning Car Finance

Earlier in February, Australia lost a father of a family of four who was lashed by a ferocious lightning strike on the Gold Coast. The family were sheltering from an electrical storm in a park near a school polling station when they were hit by one of 1500 reported lightning strikes recorded on the same day on the coast. It’s tragic evidence that one isn’t safe any place outdoors even under shanty shelters in severe thunderstorms. While 1500 may seem high but it’s not uncommon for as many as above 25,000 lightning strikes to be recorded on Energex’s lightning tracker when severe storms roll across south-east Queensland like falling dominoes.

Even electrical storms that seem far away can still be extremely treacherous, claim experts referring to another tragic lightning strike that killed a tourist holidaying near Fraser Island while fishing. Moments earlier a crack was heard in the distance before a sudden spectacular bolt out of the blue which hit the beach where he was.

The safest place is of course in your walled home and apparently staying off your land line phone set is no grandma’s tale — “The lightning can hit the phone line and travel for half a kilometre and come out the hand piece when you are using it,” according to Dr Kruszelnicki (ABC Science, Dec 2013). For that reason, whilst calling us for a low rate car finance quote during a thunderstorm, we recommend you use your mobile…

What about our safety while driving through a thunderstorm with lightning bolting every few seconds? Well you may be safe or…not. Puzzling? Dr Kruszelnicki says a car can provide protection from lightning strikes because it acts as a conductor.

“The safest place is inside a cage of metal, a great example is a car. The lightning bolt will hit the car and go through the metal and straight into the ground and not through you.”

Conversely, if you find yourself outdoors during an electrical storm, the worst place to be seeking shelter is under a tree, as “a tree is God’s natural lightning conductor; the sap in the trunk can boil instantly and explode with a force of a quarter of a tonne.” Certainly tells us how a quarter of all victims of fatal lightning strikes so happen to be standing under a tree.

How does our car actually keep us safe? Contrary to widespread belief, it isn’t those good old rubber tyres. Their ability to protect you from lightning strikes is as good as the rubber-soled shoes worn by a person standing under the tree in a storm.

In the event our car is struck by lightning, we’re left unscathed largely due to the electrical charges flowing around our car’s exterior. Its metal frame acts as a makeshift ‘Faraday cage,’ a scientific term depicting an “enclosure that conducts an electric charge evenly over its surface so that there is no net effect on the interior”. Airplane passengers are typically left unharmed for this same reason and we should be further assured that the probability and occurrence of lightning strikes on planes is much higher than cars on roads.

Don’t count on it unless you take every precaution to ensure your vehicle’s windows are closed and try not to touch or make contact with any metal components on the interior that connect to the frame. This way, if lightning does strike your vehicle, it will be conducted safely through the car’s exterior and the metal frame directs lightning currents to the ground through steel belts in the tires. Not every car is safe though.

From what science says, I’m thinking we might be vulnerable if driving something like a swanky Puma GTI (a type of fancy sports car built in Brazil made to look like a cross between a Porsche 911 and a Ferrari), or the head-turning flamboyant Lotus Elise coupe, or the Chevrolet Corvette. These are all fibreglass-built vehicles.

Together with convertibles or a vehicle with windows open—they defeat the aim of being fully enclosed or the lightning-safe theory of the Faraday Cage. Needless to say, ride-on mowers and golf carts should be thrown into the mix as well with their ‘open risks’. You’re actually better off in heavy equipment like bulldozers and backhoes with rollover canopies during thunderstorms! But provided you stop driving and switch off all engines and keep your hands off.

Tips to stay safe if driving during a severe thunderstorm with lightning:
1.Pull over to the side of the road.
2.Wait out the storm with the engine switched off.
3.Keep your hands in your lap. Do not touch anything in the car’s interior including the doors and window handles, steering wheels and gear shifts.

While our cars do provide some protection from lightning, as the metal frame directs lightning currents to the ground, vehicles can still be badly damaged by a strike. Lightning damage to a vehicle can cause breakdowns and issues to electric transmission systems, pitting of a vehicle’s bodywork or windshield damage, burning or even blowouts to tyres.

Most of all, to keep safe when you get a storm warning, stay indoors to wait it out where you’ll be safer in walled coverings and if you’re caught in a storm outdoors—flee from it like a lightning bolt into the nearest building or fully covered metal-topped vehicle rather than seeking shelter under trees or shanty coverings.

If in a car, you may wonder at what point does it become safe again to exit your vehicle during a lightning strike? Once the electrical current has passed through the vehicle and entered into the ground, it is technically safe to exit the vehicle. However, it is best to wait until the thunderstorm has passed before getting out of your car.

In need of vehicle finance? Call 360 Finance at 1300 361 360 today for a free and no obligation assessment and fast approvals so quick— it’s like greased lightning!