At some point, most drivers will get caught in nasty weather while on the road. Whether it’s rain, lightning, or hail, storms increase the risks associated with driving, so you need to be aware of how to deal with them.

Read on and we’ll answer the question in the title – is it safe to drive in a storm? – and give you tips for getting out of trouble when you’re caught in the rain.

Is it safe to drive in a storm?

It’s not as safe to drive in a storm as it is to drive in good weather, but it’s not necessarily dangerous and it’s certainly not illegal. Storms do introduce new hazards when driving though… even light rain will reduce your ability to steer and stop your vehicle.

Luckily, there are precautions you can take and rules you can follow when you’re driving in a storm that will make it safer.

Pink clouds and lightning bolts over Adelaide Australia - it wouldn't be fun to drive in a storm like this

Image: Jon Westra

General tips for driving in a storm

Make sure your car is storm ready:

  • Don’t let your tyres lose their tread. Bald tyres have almost no grip on a wet road, and will increase the risk of aquaplaning, losing control, and crashing.
  • Keep your door seals maintained. A leak is the last thing you want to worry about when it’s wet and windy outside.
  • Stay up to date on your general car maintenance. Breaking down is bad at the best of times… breaking down in a storm is a nightmare.

When driving in a storm, follow these rules and you’ll go a long way to staying safe:

  • Slow down, and pick a speed that suits the conditions, not the signposted limit. You’re unlikely to have an accident due to slow driving, but driving fast in bad weather increases the chances significantly.
  • If visibility is low, put your headlights and hazard lights on to be seen by other cars more easily.
  • Don’t be afraid to stop. If you’re not comfortable driving in the conditions, pull over and take a break.

A storm looming over Brunswick Heads in Australia, with houses, roads, and cars below

Driving in a rain storm

If you’re driving in a torrential downpour, here are some additional things to consider.

If you start aquaplaning (sliding over water on the road) don’t brake heavily… instead, take your foot off the accelerator and keep the steering wheel straight. Driving slower will help prevent aquaplaning in the first place.

Don’t drive through puddles, especially on an unknown road. Puddles can be deceptively deep, or hide submerged potholes and debris. That said, don’t swerve around puddles at speed… with water on the road, fast swerving should be avoided at all costs. Again, slowing down gives you more time to react when you see a puddle ahead.

Finally, never drive through flood waters. Even if you’re in a four wheel drive, flood waters are extremely dangerous and can have strong undercurrents that can carry your car away. If you find yourself trapped on a flooded roadway, you should stop somewhere safe and call the SES.

A house and road in deep flood water in Brisbane, making it impossible to drive in a storm that cause this

Image: Tatters

Driving in a lightning storm

Driving through a thunder or lightning storm can feel very dangerous, but it’s safer than you might think.

First, a little myth busting. Rubber tyres won’t stop your car from being struck by lightning. However, cars hit by lightning act like Faraday cages, generally preventing occupants getting shocked. The lightning strike is normally directed around the car via its metal frame, avoiding the cab altogether.  In fact, your car is one of the safest places to be during a lightning storm.

There are some caveats to this. Electricity can still travel through metal components in the car, so avoid touching anything metal while you’re driving in a storm. Also, a lightning strike can damage the car itself, which could have knock on effects (the airbags may go off, for example). Finally, soft-top convertibles don’t have the Faraday cage effect, because they don’t put a metal roof above your head.

If there’s a lightning storm reasonably far away, you’re probably okay to keep driving… but drive in a way that suits the weather conditions. If there’s lightning close by you should pull over, put your hazard lights on, and wait for it to pass. Keep your hands in your lap while you wait.

A photo of thunder crashing from the road while driving in a lightning storm

Driving in a hail storm

It’s not a good idea to drive in a hail storm if you can avoid it, because it’s quite likely your car will get some damage. If it’s starting to hail while you’re on the road, you should try and find somewhere under cover that you can park your car and wait out the storm.

If you have to drive in a hail storm, here are a few tips. First, accept that your car will likely have some damage when you get home. Accepting this will help you relax.

You’ll also need to be careful about hail hitting your windshield. You’d need to hit a large hailstone very fast for it to actually smash through the windshield, but even a small hail stone can cause a crack, impairing your vision.

By driving slowly, you’ll give yourself more time to react to hazards like this.

A car roof covered in hail damage dents, due for a major hail damage repair bill

Drive slow, drive safe

If the best advice for driving in a storm is to avoid it, the next best advice is to drive slowly. No matter what the conditions are, slowing down gives you more time to react, which helps keep you safe in dangerous situations.

About Tim Beau Bennett

Tim is an ex-journalist and radio presenter, and has been a professional writer for over a decade. He regularly writes about technology, lifestyle, and smart cities, and has written for news site including the ABC, SBS, and Australian Financial Review.