Are You Really Safe From Lightning Inside a Vehicle?

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We’ve always thought a vehicle protected us from lightning. Now we’re not so sure.

A Honda Odyssey minivan in Florida was struck by lightning and set ablaze in the Orangetree community in the Golden Gate Estates this week. The images in our story come courtesy of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, who posted the account of what happened on its Facebook page. The Sherrif’s office reports that the vehicle was struck by lightning and completely destroyed by the resulting fire.

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When Sheena Easterday’s car was struck by lightning while driving in St. Petersburg, Florida, all of her airbags went off and the car shut down. The locks were on and she could not exit her vehicle. See our video above for details on her frightening experience.

According to Weather.com, Florida cities top the list of those most likely to experience lightning. Fort Myers, Tampa, and Tallahassee are the top three locations and seven of the top ten locations for lightning strikes are in Florida. About thirty people have been killed in America by lightning each year for the past decade. None inside vehicles as far as we can discern. Thirty deaths from lightning may sound like a lot, but the number is near an all-time low. In the 1940s, when records on lightning strike deaths started to be recorded, as many as 300 people per year were killed.  The National Weather Service keeps a running total and a map showing where the fatal strikes happen.

Cars act as a Faraday cage, helping to keep you safe in the event the vehicle is struck. Experts say that the rubber tires play no role in helping keep an occupant safe. Weather.com offers this advice to those who are inside a vehicle in a lightning storm:

–  Pull to the side of the road

– Turn on your hazard lights

– Turn off the engine

– Fold hands in your lap and avoid touching anything metal within the car (including the infotainment system)

Weather.com also does suggest that a vehicle may be a good place to seek shelter if a building is not an option.

Although being hit by lightning while inside a vehicle may sound scary, more people die in cars due to drowning. Florida again leads the nation.

As scary as a lightning strike inside a car may sound, it is really alcohol that should scare you. More people are killed by crashes where alcohol is a major contributing factor than in any other type of motor vehicle fatality. About five hundred Floridians are killed in alcohol-related auto fatalities each year.

So, is it safe to be inside a vehicle that is struck by lightning? Although scary, and although the possibility for injury does exist, being inside a vehicle is a lot safer than being out in the open in a lightning storm.

 

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John Goreham

John Goreham

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