When Lightning Strikes a Car

Two New Jersey State Police vehicles were struck by lightning this afternoon, and one trooper was taken to the hospital.

State police officials say it happened on the Garden State Parkway in Middle Township, Cape May County. The vehicles were in a construction zone as a storm cell moved over the area. Both troopers were inside their vehicles.

Neither trooper sustained serious injuries, but one was taken to the hospital for observation.

So both troopers were in their vehicles… then why was one taken to the hospital? Many believe you are safe from lightning when inside a vehicle because of rubber tires.

Well, that isn’t true.

First, it’s a widespread myth that the reason vehicles provide protection from lightning is due to the tires.

The truth is that lightning actually flows around the outside of the car, and the majority of the current flows from the car’s metal cage into the ground below.

Only problem is, not all vehicles are made the same.

For one, convertibles do not have metal roofs. Also, some cars are made out of non-metal parts, which impedes electricity’s ability to flow through the car.

Another issue is that the lightning can flow through the vehicle’s electrical systems and metal appendages including, radios, cell phone chargers, GPS units as well as car door handles, foot pedals, the steering column and the steering wheel.

When some cars get struck by lightning, they suffer external damage while others suffer internal damage to electronic systems and components.

So if a storm hits and you are driving… you are safest in a metal-topped vehicle. During a storm, fold your hands in your lap and don’t touch anything metal in the car. You should also not touch the radio or talk on the cell phone, especially if it is connected to your car. This is all advice that obviously can’t be done if you are driving… so experts say to pull to the side of the road, turn on your hazard lights, turn off the engine and wait out the storm. Wait until the thunderstorm passes to get out of the vehicle.

Now let’s be realistic here… thunderstorms happen almost every day during the summer months. Pulling to the side of the road isn’t always an option. I did, however, want to make you aware of what lightning could do to your car and how it could hurt you while inside the vehicle. Be informed. Make the best decision for yourself and your family.

(sources: NBC News, NOAA)

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