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? We’ll also offer some 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. However, it’s not necessarily dangerous to drive in a storm, and it’s certainly not illegal to do so. Storms do introduce new hazards when driving though, and 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

No matter what kind of storm you’re caught in, there are a few rules of thumb that you should keep in mind.

Get your car ready to drive in a storm 

  • 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 (sliding), 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 inconvenient at the best of times… breaking down in a storm is a nightmare!

Tips for driving in a storm

  • Slow down to a speed that suits the conditions, at least 10km per hour below the signposted limit. Driving slow is unlikely to cause an accident, but driving fast in bad weather makes a crash far more likely.
  • If visibility is low, put your headlights and hazard lights on. This makes it easier for other drivers to see you.
  • 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 through a torrential downpour, here are some other ways to make your trip safer.

Aquaplaning

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

Puddles

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 either. With water on the road, fast swerving should be avoided at all costs. Slowing down gives you more time to react when you see a puddle ahead.

Flooded roads

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, stop somewhere safe and call the SES (State Emergency Service) on 132 500. That number works anywhere in Australia.

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.

Can your car be struck by lightning in a storm?

Yes, your car can be struck by lightning in a storm – rubber tyres won’t stop it. However, cars hit by lightning act like Faraday cages, which generally stops 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 might 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.

Is it safe to drive in a lightning storm?

If there’s a lightning storm reasonably far away, you’re probably okay to keep driving. Just be sure to drive in a way that suits the conditions. If there’s lightning close by it’s best to 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

While driving during rain and lightning can be safe, the same can’t be said for driving in a hail storm. If the recent catastrophic hail storms in Canberra have told us anything, it’s that Hail. Is. Dangerous.

Is it safe to drive in a hail storm?

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

How to safely drive in a hail storm

If you absolutely must 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. While you’d need to hit a very large hailstone very fast to actually smash the windshield, a small hail stone can cause a crack, impairing your vision. There’s not much you can do to stop this from happening, but driving slowly will give you more time to react.

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.