Is a Car Really a Safe Place to Be When Lightning Strikes?

By By Mark Leberfinger, Staff Writer
June 24, 2014, 6:00:50 AM EDT

Some people may think that the rubber tires on a car help to protect a driver and occupants from a lightning strike, but this is a myth.

It is what's sitting on top of the tires that makes the difference.

A fully-enclosed, all-metal vehicle is very safe, but don't touch interior metallic areas on a vehicle, Richard Kithil, president of the National Lightning Safety Institute, said.

The lightning charge goes around the outside of the vehicle, creating a Faraday effect and protecting the occupants inside.

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Fiberglass vehicles, convertibles or a vehicle with windows open, however, help defeat the fully enclosed objective, Kithil said.

So far in 2014, 7 people have been killed by lightning. One man was struck and killed while riding a motorcycle on May 22, and another was closing car windows as he was fatally struck on May 14.


The National Lightning Safety Institute suggests safely pulling off to the side of the road, waiting out the storm, turning off the engine, putting one's hands in one's lap and not touching inside items such as door and window handles, steering wheels and gear shifts. Heavy equipment such as bulldozers and backhoes with rollover canopies are safe during thunderstorms, but riding mowers and golf carts are not.

While a car provides some protection from lightning, as the metal frame directs lightning currents to the ground, vehicles can still be damaged by a strike. Lightning damage to a vehicle includes pitting, arcing and burning along with electrical system issues, the institute said.

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