You pull up to your driveway just as you hear it, an overwhelmingly loud clap of thunder. The lightning in the distance is not that far away either. You want to quickly rush in before the rain starts, but the proximity of the lightning has you spooked. Is the safest place in your car or can the lightning kill you here?
Lightning can kill you in a car if you’re in a convertible and have the top down. If your car has a metal roof over your head and you sit still without touching anything in the vehicle, then you shouldn’t have to worry about being struck by lightning.
In this article, we’ll discuss if you can be electrocuted in your car. We’ll also talk about whether you should wait out a lightning storm in your vehicle or if your house is actually the safer place to be, as well as what would happen if your car did get struck by lightning.
By the time you’re done reading, you’ll have the information you need to stay safe during thunderstorms.
Table of Contents
Can You Be Electrocuted In A Car?
As you’re sitting in your car, the radio announces a severe thunderstorm watch. A worrying thought passes through your mind. Can you be electrocuted in here?
After all, you were always taught that metal conducts electricity. Since you know that lightning follows the path of least resistance, wouldn’t that mean your car is like a giant beacon waiting for a lightning strike to hit?
Well, let’s clear up a common misconception. According to Weather.gov, metal is not an attractant for lightning. In other words, just because you’re in a metal vehicle doesn’t mean that the lightning is immediately going to strike it.
That being said, the presence of metal does act as a sort of lightning rod. If you read our last post about showering during a thunderstorm, you are well aware of this.
Lightning can penetrate your home and travel through electrical appliances, TV cables, electrical wiring, metal plumbing or water pipes. Concrete walls and floors aren’t safe to touch or lie on during a lightning storm, either.
If you wash your hands or try to take a shower during a thunderstorm, you can get electrocuted, too. So could the same happen in your car?
Yes, especially if you turn on the car’s ignition. Since metal is a guide for electricity, if lightning does strike your car, it would pass through the steel frame.
Should your car be running, the lightning would continue to travel through the internal components, especially the electrical ones, and shock you.
You might have heard that your car’s rubber tires can protect you by creating an insulation layer between you and the ground, but that’s another one of the lightning myths that’s not true either.
Is It Safe To Stay In The Car During A Lightning Storm?
Statistics from Weather.gov point out that lightning strikes in the United States about 25 million times a year!
When we hear about lightning deaths, they always seem to involve people who are taking part in outdoor activities, like hiking or being out on a golf course. It is for this reason that the CDC, in its Lightning Safety Tips guide, says to “seek shelter immediately even if caught out in the open.”
So, doesn’t it seem like a good idea to stay in your car during a storm?
But you read that you can be electrocuted if you sit in your car, so now you’re freaking out even more. Maybe you should just make a run for it and try to get inside. If you move quickly, then a bolt of lightning won’t even have a chance to strike you, right?
So you would think!
Except that lightning strikes happen at around 270,000 miles per hour, which is faster than you can imagine. No locomotive on this planet can travel at speeds comparable to the pace at which a lightning bolt moves, so you’re better off staying in the car.
Don’t think you’re safe outside of the vehicle after you hear the last rumble of thunder, either. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), you should, “Stay in safe shelter at least 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder.”
Okay, so the bottom line is that you will not be electrocuted while in your car as long as you don’t turn the vehicle on and if you take some other basic precautions. Let’s talk about what to do now.
Avoid Touching Metal Parts
Obviously, you don’t want to touch your car’s metal doors or the metal frame. Even the components of your vehicle that are covered in plastic, rubber, or leather might be metal underneath, though, so watch what you touch.
That includes your steering wheel, gear shifters, door handles, car dashboard, and the ignition. In fact, to be on the ultra-safe side, just don’t touch anything in your car!
Watch Where You Lean
Sit upright in the vehicle while you wait for the storm to pass. If you lean on the doors and lightning strikes, you will feel it (we’ll talk very shortly about what that’s like). Remind any fellow passengers in the car to do the same.
Although your car seat has metal parts, the seat is still the safest part of the vehicle. Just sit and wait. There’s no need to unbuckle, hop in the back, and duck and cover. The metal roof over your head will protect you from direct lightning impacts if you’re following the rules we’ve outlined.
If you want to call someone and let them know of the predicament you’re in, you can safely use your cell phone during a lightning storm. Since they are cordless phones, an electric current cannot pulse through it. However, avoid charging your smartphone in your car until the storm has ended.
What Happens When You Get Struck By Lightning In A Car?
Although it’s your greatest fear, you have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. If you get struck by lightning, what will happen?
Well, first of all, we have to say that this is not very likely. Throughout your life, your risk of lightning strikes is 1 in 15,300 per data from the National Weather Service. In a year, the risk is even lower, 1 in 1,222,000.
If you do become a lightning victim, however, it could happen in one of four ways: conduction, ground current, side flash, or a direct strike. Let’s differentiate between these types of lightning strikes:
- Conduction: A conduction injury is one that’s caused by using a metal object in which lightning has coursed through, which can include any components of your car.
- Ground current: If you’re outdoors and a ground current passes over the area, then the low-traveling lightning will course through you, specifically your cardiovascular and/or nervous system.
- Side flash: Even if lightning doesn’t strike you directly, its energy can transfer to you or the items around you.
- Direct strike: As the name suggests, a direct strike is when lightning does hit you.
Here are some of the injuries you can suffer from the above types of lightning strikes.
Any one of several burns can occur if you’re struck by lightning. The most infamous is the Lichtenburg figure burn, which leaves tree-like burn marks across the affected part(s) of the body.
The other types of burns include thermal burns, punctate burns, and flash or linear burns, says this 2017 publication of Clinical Practice and Cases in Emergency Medicine.
- Thermal burns are common, as if you’ve ever burned yourself before, this is the type of injury you suffered. Depending on how many layers of skin are penetrated, thermal burns can be mild or more severe.
- Punctate burns leave circle-shaped marks in the affected area and are considered non-serious in many instances.
- Flash burns (aka linear burns) are caused by thermal radiation, high voltages, or bright light flashes such as lightning.
Remember, lightning travels at speeds of 270,000 MPH. Whether it’s a direct strike or a side flash, the force of the impact can throw your body from the site of the lightning strike. This can result in blunt injuries.
If you’re in respiratory arrest, you might struggle to breathe and experience symptoms such as wheezing, sweating, and grunting.
When the human body is being deprived of oxygen, being in respiratory arrest becomes a life-threatening condition. Cardiac arrest and brain damage can follow without quick medical attention.
Heart asystole (“a-sis-toe-lee”) refers to when your heart’s non-perfusing ventricular rhythms begin slowing down.
A heart arrythmia (irregular heartbeat) can follow, which prevents the lower chambers from pumping blood properly and impacts the rest of the heart. Often, heart asystole can be deadly.
Although it doesn’t happen with every lightning strike, some victims have reported losing their memories. Since these effects can be prolonged, it’s unclear how long it would take to recover your memories or if it would ever happen.
Based on your proximity to the strike, your tympanic membrane in the ear can rupture, which leads to conductive hearing loss. This report from the American Journal of Neuroradiology from 2007 states that over half of those struck by lightning will have an ear rupture.
Lightning isn’t like staring at the sun in that vision loss will necessarily happen, but a close strike can rob you of your sight. That was the case for a woman who got struck by lightning in a car, as mentioned in this Live Science article from 2015.
As the electrical charge from lightning travels through your body upon being struck, the resulting nervous system damage can lead to seizures. Whether these seizures would be a one-time event or an ongoing medical issue is unknown.
How Do You Know If Your Car Is Struck By Lightning?
What if you think your car was struck by lightning, but you’re just not sure? Here are some can’t-miss signs that your vehicle was wrecked by a lightning storm.
An antenna is but a small piece of metal, so it shouldn’t surprise you that in a particularly close lightning strike, the antenna can bend, snap, or even melt right off your car.
In a ground current especially, the damage might be centralized underneath your vehicle. If your car has a few flat tires and you didn’t drive over anything sharp, you can assume that lightning punctured the tires.
Broken Rear Windshield
If your car was really that close to a lightning strike, then your rear windshield will likely bear the brunt of the damage. It could be shattered from the lightning’s shock wave or in otherwise rough shape.
Fried Electrical System
Try turning your car on. Does it not want to start? Or maybe your car works but other electrical components no longer do. This indicates that lightning went through your car’s electrical system and fried most if not all the parts.
This is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but if you happen to catch the sparks coming from your vehicle, you’ll undeniably know that yes, your car was hit by lightning.
Lightning can kill you in a car if you’re careless. While you can safely take refuge in your vehicle during a lightning storm, be sure to keep your hands off all metal parts.
Although lightning strikes remain rare, you should still do all you can to safeguard yourself from their damaging effects. After all, some lightning strike injuries are fatal!
Can lightning kill you in a car? ›
Cars are safe from lightning because of the metal cage surrounding the people inside the vehicle. This may sound counter-intuitive because metal is a good conductor of electricity, but the metal cage of a car directs the lightning charge around the vehicle occupants and safely into the ground.What happens if lightning strikes your car with you inside? ›
Generally, strikes cause damage to the electrical system, the antenna, the tires and the rear windshield. Intense strikes can also ignite a fire within your vehicle, rendering it inoperable and endangering your life.What are OSHA rules in lightning? ›
Remain in the shelter for at least 30 minutes after hearing the last sound of thunder. Vehicles as Shelter: If safe building structures are not accessible, employers should guide workers to hard-topped metal vehicles with rolled up windows.Can lightning kill you if your inside? ›
Myth: If you are in a house, you are 100% safe from lightning. Fact: A house is a safe place to be during a thunderstorm as long as you avoid anything that conducts electricity. This means staying off corded phones, electrical appliances, wires, TV cables, computers, plumbing, metal doors and windows.Can lightning hurt you inside? ›
Even though your home is a safe shelter during a lightning storm, you might still be at risk. About one-third of lightning-strike injuries occur indoors.Why is it safe to sit in a car during lightning? ›
The "correct" answer appears to be because the car acts like a Faraday cage. The metal in the car will shield you from any external electric fields and thus prevent the lightning from traveling within the car.Where is the safest place to be in a thunderstorm car? ›
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.What are 10 safety tips for lightning? ›
- Avoid these dangers. Don't shelter under trees, near water, on high ground or in open fields. ...
- If you can, head inside. The first rule of keeping safe is to head back indoors when there is lightning. ...
- No buildings around? A car is a safe place to shelter. ...
- Unplug your appliances. ...
- Indoor safety.
While no place is 100% safe from lightning, some places are much safer than others. The safest location during a thunderstorm is inside a large enclosed structure with plumbing and electrical wiring. These include shopping centers, schools, office buildings, and private residences.Can you sit on the toilet during a lightning storm? ›
No. Lightning can travel through plumbing. It is best to avoid all water during a thunderstorm.
What are 3 Lightning safety tips? ›
- Go indoors immediately. ...
- If you are in an open area, go to a low place such as a ravine or valley and watch out for flash flooding.
- If you are in a forest, seek shelter in a low area under a growth of small trees.
- If you are boating or swimming, get to land and seek shelter immediately.
While lightning has been recorded to strike at a distance of 10 miles, the rule of thumb used for safety is a six mile distance. Thus, seeking shelter is recommended if the lightning is six miles away or less.What causes lightning to kill you? ›
Most indoor lightning casualties and some outdoor casualties are due to conduction. Whether inside or outside, anyone in contact with anything connected to metal wires, plumbing, or metal surfaces that extend outside is at risk.Has anyone been struck by lightning inside a house? ›
While it is rare, yes, it is possible to receive a lightning injury inside a house. Burns and electric shock injuries can occur when someone is in direct contact with one of lightning's chosen paths to ground.Does lightning go through windows? ›
There is not an increased chance of getting hit by lightning if you are near a window. The reason you are supposed to stay away from windows is because the glass could shatter and send pieces flying in all directions. A lightning bolt would explode the glass window before it would travel through the glass.What parts of human body are damaged by lightning? ›
Griggs says if a person is struck by lightning, it can cause cardiac arrest, which stops a person's body from circulating blood and cause direct injury to the brain and nervous system, preventing the brain from being able to send the appropriate signals to tell the body to continue breathing.Where does lightning strike the most? ›
Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela is the place on Earth that receives the most lightning strikes. Massive thunderstorms occur on 140-160 nights per year with an average of 28 lightning strikes per minute lasting up to 10 hours at a time. That's as many as 40,000 lightning strikes in one night!What happens if lightning strikes water? ›
When lightning strikes, most of electrical discharge occurs near the water's surface. Most fish swim below the surface and are unaffected. Although scientists don't know exactly just how deep the lightning discharge reaches in water, it's very dangerous to be swimming or boating during a thunderstorm.How often do cars get hit by lightning? ›
They can arrange to have the vehicle examined for damages that may be hidden. While it may be a one-in-a-million chance to get struck by lightning while driving, taking the above precautions will help keep your mind on your driving, and protect you from lightning while out on the road.Is a car the best place to be in lightning? ›
If you are caught out in thunder and lightning it is advised that you wind up the windows and stay inside your car. This is because in the vast majority of cars with a metal roof and frame, the frame will act as a conductive Faraday cage, passing the current around the passengers inside and on to the ground.
Where is the safest place to hide from lightning? ›
- Find indoor shelter. Get inside the nearest available hard-topped vehicle or building, keeping all windows shut, and stay there for at least 30 minutes after the storm passes before returning outside. ...
- Get to low ground. Avoid hilltops and open areas. ...
- Distance yourself from tall objects.
Dangers of lightning
- ground current.
- side flash.
- contact (with an object struck by lightning)
- upward leaders.
- direct strike.
- blunt trauma.
During a thunderstorm, avoid open vehicles such as convertibles, motorcycles, and golf carts. Be sure to avoid open structures such as porches, gazebos, baseball dugouts, and sports arenas. And stay away from open spaces such as golf courses, parks, playgrounds, ponds, lakes, swimming pools, and beaches.What are 5 things you should avoid doing in a lightning storm? ›
- 1.Stand in the Storm. Rule #1, When thunder roars go indoors! ...
- Use Your Water. ...
- Go Boating. ...
- Touch Concrete Structures. ...
- Use Electronics Plugged Into the Wall.
Iceland. Iceland is the safest country in the world according to the latest Global Peace Index data. The index is compiled by looking at a variety of factors, including the number of homicides, the level of violent crime, and the availability of small arms.Where are the most lightning deaths? ›
Florida, Texas, Colorado, North Carolina, and Alabama have the most lightning deaths. 73% of lightning deaths occur in June, July, and August. Lightning strikes cause more deaths on weekends, mostly on Saturday. 59% of lightning strike victims engage in outside leisure activities on the weekend.How many people are killed by lightning every year? ›
Lightning kills about 20 people each year in the United States and hundreds more are injured. Some survivors suffer lifelong neurological damage.
When You See Lightning, Count The Time Until You Hear Thunder. If That Is 30 Seconds Or Less, The Thunderstorm Is Close Enough To Be Dangerous – Seek Shelter (if you can't see the lightning, just hearing the thunder is a good back-up rule). Wait 30 Minutes Or More After The Lightning Flash Before Leaving Shelter.Can I sleep during lightning storm? ›
Know how to stay safe. If you are inside during a thunderstorm, you're already pretty safe. Make sure that if the storm is severe, with high winds and a lot of lightning, to stay away from windows. It's often good to go to a low place or room without windows like a basement.What happens if lightning hits your roof? ›
Visible Fire Damage on the Roof
Reaching up to 50,000° F, lightning bolts are so hot that they can heat your home's roof, shingles, and attic enough to cause a major fire. A direct hit can even punch right through your shingles and into the attic beneath, causing damage to the electrical systems, insulation, and more.
What is the single best thing you can do to avoid getting struck by lightning? ›
- If you're outdoors and you see lightning or hear thunder, go inside a sturdy building or get inside a hard-top car or truck and close the windows.
- Avoid utility poles, barbed wire fences, tractors, and motorcycles.
- Don't lie flat.
For every 5 seconds between the lightning flash and the sound of thunder the thunderstorm that produced the lightning is 1 mile away. If the time is decreasing the storm is moving toward you. If it is increasing the storm is moving farther away.Why is it safest to protect yourself from lightening is to be inside a car? ›
The body of car is metallic. it provides electrostatic shielding to the person in the car because electric field inside car is zero. the discharging due to lightning passes to the ground through the metallic body of the car. Was this answer helpful?Why wait 30 minutes after lightning? ›
Because electrical charges can linger in clouds after a thunderstorm has seemingly passed, experts agree that people should wait at least 30 minutes after the last thunder before resuming outdoor activities.Can lightning burst your eardrums? ›
However, although temporary sensorineural hearing loss is frequent in victims, the most common otologic manifestation is rupture of the tympanic membrane, often with an associated conductive hearing loss. More than 50% of lightning victims have ruptured tympanic membranes.Which comes first lightning or thunder? ›
Thunder is created when lightning passes through the air. The lightning discharge heats the air rapidly and causes it to expand. The temperature of the air in the lightning channel may reach as high as 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun.What are 5 dangers of lightning? ›
Dangers of lightning
- ground current.
- side flash.
- contact (with an object struck by lightning)
- upward leaders.
- direct strike.
- blunt trauma.
Remember the 30/30 lightning safety rule: Go indoors if, after seeing lightning, you cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder. Stay indoors 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.What are the 5 steps of lightning? ›
- The stepped leader. A typical CG lightning strike initiates inside the storm. ...
- Stepped leader inducing streamers. ...
- Connection is made with the ground. ...
- Connection is made with the ground. ...
- The return stroke, what we see when lightning flashes.
Lightning can jump through windows, so keep your distance from them during storms! The second way lightning can enter a building is through pipes or wires. If the lightning strikes utility infrastructure, it can travel through those pipes or wires and enter your home that way.
What kills you in a lightning strike? ›
In addition, ground current can travel in garage floors with conductive materials. Because the ground current affects a much larger area than the other causes of lightning casualties, the ground current causes the most lightning deaths and injuries. Ground current also kills many farm animals.What parts of the body are most affected by lightning? ›
Dr. Griggs says tissue near bones can suffer the worst damage since a person's bones are the most resistant part of the body to the lightning. Certainly neurological and muscle injuries can also impact a person throughout the rest of their life.How close do you have to be to a lightning strike to feel it? ›
WHAT WE FOUND. Greg Schoor with the National Weather Service says in some instances lightning can strike even 60 miles away from the storm, and if it hits just 100 feet away, you can still feel the effects from it.What are 3 facts about lightning? ›
- Lightning isn't that thick. ...
- Lightning is five times hotter than the surface of the sun. ...
- Lightning can be triggered. ...
- “Upward lightning” is a thing. ...
- Some lightning is more likely to spark wildfires. ...
- Men are struck roughly four times as often as women.
A jolting, excruciating pain. “My whole body was just stopped—I couldn't move any more,” Justin recalls. “The pain was … I can't explain the pain except to say if you've ever put your finger in a light socket as a kid, multiply that feeling by a gazillion throughout your entire body.Can lightning go through a roof? ›
It can puncture a roof, sear the surrounding materials, and tear through attics. A powerful enough strike can tear off shingles and gutters, leaving the roof a disaster. Fire is another serious concern, says ABC KGUN9 News. Lightning doesn't just travel, it can ignite anything that it touches.Can you survive a lightning strike? ›
Although the vast majority of lightning strike victims survive, the effects can be serious and long-lasting. Survivors have experienced debilitating injuries, burns and ongoing disability, including symptoms like seizures and memory loss.Can lightning go through wood? ›
Absolutely NOT! Wood is a very poor conductor of electrical charges. When lightning zaps a tree, the sap boils under the intense heat. The resistance of the wood often causes the tree to explode, turning bark, limbs, and splintered wood into deadly projectiles.