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10 Pieces of Disaster Safety Advice You Should Ignore

        Science | Storms

10
Your Car's Rubber Tires Will Protect You from Lightning.
During a lightning storm, you might not be as safe in your car as you think. Fuse/Thinkstock
During a lightning storm, you might not be as safe in your car as you think. Fuse/Thinkstock

Cruising the highway in a luxury sports car, you notice an ominous cloud with an occasional pop of lightning ahead. You should be fine since you're sitting on top-of-the-line rubber tires, right? Not necessarily.

Cars do provide pretty good lightning protection, but that's not because of the rubber tires. It's thanks to a principle called the Faraday effect. See, when lightning strikes something like a thick copper wire or a hollow pipe, the outer surface carries most of the current. Likewise, when a car is hit, current moves down the metal roof and sides, funneling the bolt around you and into the ground. So vehicles without such a metal enclosure, like convertibles, motorcycles and bicycles offer no protection from lightning, even if they do have rubber tires. This fact was tragically demonstrated in 2014 when the list of 26 lightning fatalities included a motorcyclist [sources: National Lightning Safety Institute, National Weather Service].

So what should you do if you're caught in your car during a lightning storm? The National Lightning Safety Institute recommends pulling over and putting your hands in your lap until the storm passes because things like door and window handles, radio dials, gearshifts and steering wheels can transfer current from the outside in (another of 2014's lightning fatalities was a man closing his car windows). Cars can still be damaged by a strike, but hopefully the harm will be limited to burned paint or a fried electrical system.


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