have been several cases of motorcyclists hit and killed by
lightning. Because a car is comparatively safe in a thunder storm,
there is a misconception that its safety lies in the fact that it is
on rubber, and by extension, that a motorcycle is safe for the same
reason. However, if you consider that a bolt of lightning travels
several kilometers between the clouds and the ground, a few
centimeters of wet rubber isn't going to help at all.
reason why a car is safe, is because it forms a cage (scientifically
it is called a 'Faraday' cage) around you. The electrical charge
collects around the outer surface of the car, leaving the occupants
unharmed. A bike, and some other vehicles like convertible cars, do
not form a cage around the occupants, leaving them vulnerable to
Here are a few safety steps you can take if caught by a thunder
Know the weather forecast before heading out.
If lightning threatens, try to find the relative safest location
Avoid tall objects, especially trees.
Squat low if caught in the open.
Know the weather forecast for that day. If there is a high chance of
thunderstorm activity, you may want to curtail your riding
activities on this day.
If you see threatening skies in the distance and you are passing a
safe location, you may want to stop at this safe location and wait
the storm out. This is especially true for motorcyclists who are
in remote areas and safe locations are few and far between.
Remember, lightning can strike many miles away from the rain area
of a thunderstorm.
If you can turn around and get away from the storm, do it.
DO NOT ride into or near a lighting storm.
If you cannot find a safe location, some areas outside may be
somewhat safer than others:
If an overpass is available, seek shelter under the overpass. DO
NOT go near steel girders. Move away from your bike. Remain on the
dry surfaces if possible. Overpasses are engineered structures and
are likely to be properly grounded. Although an overpass is likely
to be higher than the surrounding landscape, if it is struck by
lightning, the electrical current will likely be channelled safely
into the earth’s surface.
Look for a bridge over a stream, culvert, railroad crossing or any
other type of bridge. Stay away from water, stay away from any
metal surfaces (however, be alert for rapidly rising water if
under a bridge which crosses a stream).
High tension wires: If high voltage electrical tension wires cross
the road, you may want to seek shelter directly underneath these
wires. Do not get too close to the large metal towers which hold
up these wires (stay away at least 20 meters). Electric companies
design these high tension wires for lightning strikes. If lighting
should strike the wires or towers, the current is designed to
safely go deep into the ground.
IMPORTANT: None of the above recommendations (overpasses,
bridges, high tension wires) guarantee safety from being struck by
lightning. However, it is likely that these recommendations are
safer than being caught "out in the open". Of course, the best
thing to do is to find a safe location before lightning threatens.
REMEMBER - Do NOT seek shelter in an UNSAFE BUILDING. Picnic
shelters or other open roadside shelters are NOT safe during
If you find yourself caught completely in the open and lightning is
occurring within 10 to 15 km of your location, it is strongly
suggested that the best thing for you to do is STOP riding, get off
of your motorcycle, find the lowest area possible (small
ditch/culvert, etc), and get into the Lightning Desperation
Motorcyclist should move at least 20 meters away from their bike.
DO NOT CONTINUE TO RIDE if lightning is occurring! Once lightning
is within 5 miles of your location, it is suggested you should
stop your ride. Motorcyclists have been struck and killed by
lightning while riding in lightning storms.
The Lightning Desperation Position
Squat down, keep your feet together, keep other parts of your body
off the ground, close your eyes and cover your ears.
you are caught in the open and lightning is nearby, the safest
position to be in is crouched down on the balls of your feet. Keep
your hands over your ears and do not allow other parts of your body
to touch the ground. Keep your feet as close to one another as
Why is it important to crouch down on the balls of your feet? The
reason why is that when lightning strikes an object, the electricity
of the lightning discharge does not necessarily go straight down
into the ground. Quite often the electricity will travel along the
surface of the ground for quite a large distance. The electrical
current likely varies widely from place to place, even over a small
This phenomenon is known as a "side flash". Many people who are
"struck" by lightning are not hit directly by the main lightning
channel, but are affected by electrical current of the side flash as
it travels along the surface of the ground. By keeping the surface
area of your body relative to the ground to a minimum (that is, keep
your feet together and do not allow any other part of your body to
contact the ground, you can reduce the threat of the electricity
travelling across the ground from crossing your body and injuring
A more technical description of this phenomenon is called ground
potential. If a flash occurs nearby and your feet are separated AND
the electrical current is different between your two feet, then the
electrical current will try to equalize across your feet. What this
mean is the electric current will travel through your body to
equalize between your two feet (it will do this by travelling up one
leg, across your lower abdomen, and then down the other leg). The
greater your feet are from each other the greater the ground
potential could be (even a few extra inches can make a big
difference). If your feet are together, then the ground potential
between your two feet will likely be less, and the current will
likely not travel as much through your body. This safety measure
only helps for a lightning flash that strikes nearby, and not a
flash that directly hits you - it is important to note that if you
are in this position and the lightning strikes you directly, then
there is a high probability that you will be seriously injured or
killed. It is good to know, however, that there has never been a
documented case of somebody being injured or killed while in the
lightning desperation position.
How Far Away is Lightning From Me?
To estimate the distance between you and a lightning flash, use the
"Flash to Bang" method: If you observe lightning, count the number
of seconds until you hear thunder. Divide the number of seconds by 3
to get the rough distance (in kilometers) the lightning is away from
you. If you count to 10, the lightning hit roughly 3km from you.
You should be in a safe location if the time between the lightning
flash and the rumble of thunder is 30 seconds or less.
Remember, prevention is better than cure – if the weather looks bad,
rather don't take the bike.
This article is heavily based on an article I found on a website,
the URL of which I have unfortunately lost. I would like to credit
the original author. If you are the author of the original article,
please contact me so that I can either credit you, or remove the
article if you so prefer.