Common Myths About Driving in Dangerous Weather

Do you know the right thing to do during lightning, a snow storm or flooding?

You never know where you'll be when severe weather strikes. You could even be in your car. So, when driving gets hazardous, we rely on habit, and tried and true techniques. But how true are they?

Myth #1: You Can Dodge an Oncoming Tornado in Your Car

Let's say you're driving and encounter a tornado. The first reaction of many people is amazement at nature's fury. But then reality sets in, maybe panic. People need to make a split-second decision about what to do. Too often they decide they can outrun the tornado in their car. But automotive expert and former race car driver Lauren Fix says that is pure myth.

"Tornadoes change direction without any notice and you don't know what the road in front of you is gonna look like," Fix said. "There could be debris. You could have a roadway that's blocked. Where are you gonna go?"

"But I've seen this," ABC News' Sam Champion said. "I've seen people in cars out-drive tornadoes."

"You've seen the storm chasers," Fix replied. "These people are professionals and this is not something the average driver should even attempt."

The best advice, Fix said, is "if you see a tornado, find shelter immediately. Your car is a 4,000 pound toy and it can be tossed at anywhere, anytime."

Myth #2: Steer into the Skid

The winter season is filled with myths about snow, ice and freezing temperatures. So, what better place to get to the cold hard truth than about 9,000 feet up in the Colorado Rockies, where places like Steamboat Springs can get 30 feet of snow in a winter season, and it rarely gets above freezing.

That's great for the ski conditions, but for driving ... well, that's something completely different, as Mark Cox of the Bridgestone Winter Driving School knows firsthand.

"If you start to skid on the ice or snow, just realize that it's not the end of the world," he said. "First and foremost, don't panic."

Normally, Cox said, people react by letting go of the steering wheel, yanking on it or jamming on the brakes. "None of these things helps you in correcting a skid," he said.

We're often told to steer into a skid. But is that the right thing to do?

Let's say you turn a corner in the snow or ice, and the car skids. You realize the front end is turning to the right. Many people would believe 'steering into the skid' means turning the car to the right ... big mistake! This is an over-steering situation in which the skid actually happened because the rear wheels skidded to the left. So, if you were to steer into the skid, you'd be steering to the left. But this can get confusing, so Cox tells students, instead of steering into the skid, "Look in the direction that you'd rather have the car be going, and steer that way."

CLICK HERE to see an explanatory diagram from the Bridgestone Winter Driving School.

Myth #3: Always Warm Up Your Car

Another winter driving myth: always warm up the car. But this one simply isn't true. Cox explains that "modern cars deal really well with cold. And you can start it up pretty quickly, and take off right away, within thirty seconds, and it's fine."

In fact, experts say idling the car wastes gas, and that's bad for the environment.

Myth #4: You Can Drive Through a Flooded Roadway

After winter snows, drivers have to deal with April showers. So, if torrential rains flood the roads, don't buy into the myth that you can drive right through, even if you think it's just a puddle. Fix warned, "if it's flooded roadways from a river, a creek, or a lake, you do not want to drive through it because anything that's even a foot deep of water, which is not much at all, can cause your vehicle to float."

Champion's advice to drivers is to "slow down and make a good solid judgment about where the water's coming from, how much water do I think it is before I pursue."

Myth #5: Your Car Provides Protection From Lightning

Those April showers also bring something else ... lightning, and the myth people continue to believe, no matter what they've been told: you're safe in your car if you get struck by lightning because of the rubber in the tires.

Fix said that people believe the rubber in their tires acts as an insulator that will keep them safe from the lightning. But in reality, he said, "if you get struck by lightning, it will travel down to the ground and stop itself. But you will hear a loud bang inside the car, and it's very scary."

The popular British TV show "Top Gear" put this myth to the test with host Richard Hammond as the guinea pig.

"They're going to zap me and this car with 800,000 volts," Hammond said to the cameras during the demonstration. "You might think the tires are going to protect me, by insulating the car from Earth because they're rubber."

Inside the car, he waited and then suddenly, Hammond said, "I'm being hit by lightning!"

He quickly realized, "now it's doing stuff to the car, got error message up on the dashboard."

After the ordeal, Hammond was thankful, yet amazed, to say, "I'm alive."

It wasn't the tires that kept Hammond safe. As this experiment proved, the one thing that will protect you from a lightning strike is your car's metal frame, because the electricity travels around the passenger compartment and down to the ground.

But what happened to the car?

To Hammond's surprise, "it starts, it still works, amazing."

But not everyone is so lucky.

"My poor little car was totaled," said Wendy Allen, a graduate student at the University of Florida, who was struck by lightning as she drove on a rural Mississippi highway a few years ago.

"It was raining very heavily, it was thundering and lightning, and I just saw bright light," she said. "Intense light filled up my car for just a split second. But it was a deafening bang."

Her car antenna was destroyed because that's where the lightning hit, and a tiny scorch mark on the trunk showed where the lightning exited after it fried the car's electrical system. It wasn't the car's rubber tires that protected Allen. It's because she wasn't touching anything metal in the car.

And that, Fix said, is the best advice if you get caught in your car in a thunder storm.

"In the vehicle, there's a lot of plastic and a lot of non-metal components," he said. "Best thing is don't touch anything metal. Keep your hands ... to yourself. Pull over and park in a safe place, if you can. It's absolutely safer to stay in the car than get out of the car."

At the end of the day, Allen admitted, "there is not a doubt in my mind that I'm incredibly lucky to be alive today. My car saved my life."