The weather can drastically change within minutes, and you may not always be in a position to plan. In such situations, it is an inevitable question that pops up in everyone’s mind. ‘Is it safe to drive in such conditions?’ This article will help you clear the facts and get a better understanding of the dangers associated with it.
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Is it Safe to Drive in a Thunderstorm?
It is not a good idea to be driving in a storm. But there are situations where we just cannot afford not to. It is certainly not against the law but is it safe? Well, it is not as safe as driving on a well-lit road with clear weather, but it is not always a deadly ordeal if you take necessary precautions and have acquired sufficient experience behind the wheel.
The most important factor that determines whether it is safe to drive in a storm is the severity of the storm, as well as the driver’s skill. If the rainfall is so intense that it hampers your visibility, or if it is accompanied by something like a hailstorm, the best thing you could do is refrain from driving until the intensity drops a few bars.
Rain can decrease the amount of grip available on the road, and it will also reduce the visibility of the road ahead. The driver must put a light foot on the pedal giving smooth inputs, to retain traction.
The driver should also be well aware of their surroundings at all times by making proper use of the mirrors and should have a quick reaction time to stop the car at a moment’s notice if anything goes wrong.
If the above conditions of safe driving are not met, you not only endanger yourself, but all the other users of the road as well. People like pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists are the most vulnerable of the lot, and you should pay them special attention.
What Bad Can Happen if You Drive in a Thunderstorm?
The most dangerous and most common effect that can happen during a thunderstorm is aquaplaning. Aquaplaning is when the treads in your tire cannot dissipate the rainwater on the road effectively enough. It results in the formation of a thin layer of water between the tire and the road, reducing the amount of available grip.
If you do not take precautions such as keeping a light foot on the accelerator and avoiding sudden acceleration or braking, you can end up in serious trouble. Both actions can cause the tire to break traction, which will put the car into a slide, and you will not have any control over it. Your car will be at risk of sliding off the road or crashing into other cars.
Heavy rain can fill the potholes on the road, forming puddles of water. You will not be able to recognize the actual depth of the potholes, especially if you are not familiar with the roads. An unexpected pothole could throw you out of control, and you might panic and brake hard, which will lead to crashing. It could also harm the suspension components, bend the wheels or rupture the tires.
Flooded roads can also be a cause for concern. It is very hard to perceive the depth of water on a flooded road. You might think that your car will be able to handle it, but it is generally not a good idea to drive into floodwater.
If the water is deeper than you thought or if there are strong undercurrents, your car will float and drift away, which is a very dangerous situation. The water can get into the car, damaging your electrical components, or it can hydro lock your engine if it gets inside the intakes.
There is also an added risk of getting struck by lightning. But thankfully, that is not a common occurrence, as recorded cases of cars getting struck by lightning are few and far in between. And you are far more likely to find yourself in any of the above-mentioned situations.
What Happens When Your Car is Struck by Lightning?
A car with a hard-top roof is a relatively safe place to be in if you are in the middle of a thunderstorm. Contrary to popular belief, this is not because of the rubber tires acting as insulation, but because of the metal frame acting as a faraday cage. Rubber is an insulator, but it will not be able to hold up the high voltage from a lightning strike.
If your car ever gets struck by lightning, the metal frame of your car will protect the occupants. It might seem counterintuitive as metal is a very good conductor of electricity. But that same property allows it to direct the electricity away from you, into the ground through the tires.
Lightning strikes will almost immediately damage your car. The tires will be punctured as the high currents pass through them. It can also cause your electrical system to malfunction and throw several warning signs, or it might fail entirely. And in some cases, the windows might also get broken.
In certain severe cases, it can burn and melt both the body panels outside the car and the internal components as well. In any case, you will not be able to drive the car without making the necessary repairs.
How to Be Safe in Your Car During a Thunderstorm?
The best place to be during a thunderstorm is inside an enclosed building. But being inside a car is certainly the better option if the alternative is just standing in the open.
If you are in a car, remember to park it away from any trees or any unstable structures that might fall on the car. But try to park in a populated place as opposed to a secluded area.
Keep your hand away from any metal objects inside the cabin. It includes exposed parts of the door, metal parts of the pedals, ignition, and dials. If you touch any exposed metal as the car is struck by lightning, you risk getting an electric shock.
Make sure that the car you are in is a hardtop with a metal roof. Because convertibles are most likely to have soft tops, which are not conducive. As a result, it does not form a Faraday cage around you, leaving you exposed.
Also read: 15 Cars that NEVER Rust (100% Galvanised)
What Things in Your Car Attract Lightning?
Lightning is attracted by tall conductive objects. So if your car has long antennae sticking out of the roof, you might have a higher risk of attracting lightning to your car. Most other factors play little to no role in determining how likely your car is to get struck by lightning.
How to Safely Drive Your Car if You Have to Drive in a Thunderstorm?
Driving in thunderstorms is generally not recommended unless you absolutely have to. If weather forecasts predict severe thunderstorms, then consider waiting it out and drive when the weather clears a bit.
Make sure that your wiper blades are in good condition and that they do not leave streaks on the windshield or make any noise while operating. If they do, then it means they need to be replaced.
Also, ensure that the headlights have adequate illumination and that the tires have enough tread left in them. The thicker the tread, the better will be its performance on wet roads. Make sure that the spare tire is sufficiently aired up and that the tools for replacing tires are all present.
Fill up the fuel tank. You do not want to be stranded on the side of a road in the middle of a storm. Prolonged thunderstorms can mean that many gas stations may not be operational, so refuel as soon as you can find a gas station.
Make sure that your phone is fully charged up and carry a small power bank if you think it is necessary. Let your friends or family know where you will be going and at what time you expect to reach there. So that they can send help if you get stuck in a dreadful situation.
If the journey is going to be particularly long, carry some water and protein bars. If you want to be extra careful, pack a first aid kit and a flashlight with some spare batteries.
Tune in to a weather station on the radio for regular updates regarding the storm. It will help you to get up-to-date information regarding flooding or road blockades due to debris. Be ready to reroute if it is necessary.
Avoid using cruise control and keep your speed below the speed limit of the road. Leave three times more space from the car in front of you as you might leave in normal conditions. This is because the braking distance increases when it rains, and the grip on the road is reduced.
If the visibility gets really bad, pull over and wait till the rain reduces. If you find yourself aquaplaning and losing grip, slowly take your foot off the accelerator and give smooth and steady steering inputs to keep the car pointing in the right direction.
Do not drive into standing water. It is very hard to understand the depth, and you might not expect the water to be very high.
Are Electric Cars More Likely to be Struck by Lightning?
Electric cars are just as likely as any other car on the road when it comes to getting struck by lightning. There are no valid reasons to believe that electric cars are more likely to get struck by lightning. They might suffer a bit more damage as there are more electrical components in electric cars that can develop faults.