How to Stay Safe Behind the Wheel During a Solar Eclipse

The Great North American Eclipse of 2024 is coming on April 8, and it could create the biggest mass-travel day in the nation's history. That's because the path of totality — the places where the moon's shadow entirely blocks out the sun — crosses some 14 states. There are also major cities within a few hour's drive to the path of totality. These include Houston, St. Louis, Nashville, Chicago, and the Eastern megalopolis stretching from Washington, DC, to Boston. 

With so many people likely to hit the road to catch this rare event, it could create a traffic nightmare and pose unusual dangers to drivers. Here's how to prepare.

Why Is Driving During an Eclipse Dangerous?

Driving during an eclipse can be more dangerous than you think. For one thing, the traffic is likely to be much higher, especially if the weather is good. Millions of people could be racing to get to the path of totality in time to catch the eclipse, and increased traffic can lead people to take risks on the road.

People are also likely to be distracted while driving. When the moon fully blocks the sun, "night" falls quickly The sudden change could be a massive distraction to drivers who aren't mentally prepared. Drivers could also be keeping an eye on the progress of the eclipse while driving, which can be a major risk. Any time you take your eyes off the road, you increase your accident risk. With many people likely to be distracted at the same time, it could be a recipe for disaster.

How Past Eclipses Affected Traffic

The last comparable solar eclipse was in 2017 when the path of totality swept from Oregon to South Carolina. The Federal Highway Administration advised localities to develop a traffic plan ahead of time. Many local agencies advised people to reduce errands during eclipse week to help curb traffic. They also recommended early arrivals to and late departures from eclipse-viewing areas to spread the traffic out over a longer period. Increased police presence on state highways also helped discourage bad behavior. In short, good preparation played a role in controlling traffic jams during the last eclipse.

A study of 2017 eclipse traffic showed that, in many areas, traffic leading up to the day of the eclipse was steady. However, traffic increased immediately after the event as people all left the area at the same time. States like Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming had the biggest eclipse day traffic increases, while Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri had less daily traffic than usual. This indicates that people flocked to scenic areas and wide open spaces for their eclipse viewing. They could also have been chasing clear skies, as Idaho and Wyoming are generally drier than the storm-prone Midwest and East Coast.

What to Expect on the Roads During the 2024 Eclipse

To prepare for the influx of tourists on April 8, one county in Texas has already declared a state of emergency. Bell County expects its population to double during the event. This could strain emergency services and cause lines for necessities like groceries and gas. Officials have advised residents to avoid driving and plan to fuel their vehicles and complete their errands ahead of the event to reduce the strain on local services.

While the skies above Texas offer the best chance at a sunny day for the event, other areas in the path of totality could experience increased traffic and should also be prepared. As the event gets closer, the weather forecast could dictate which areas are most likely to experience greater traffic as people chase the sun to view the eclipse. 

How to Handle Driving During an Eclipse

It's best to stay off the roads during the eclipse, but if you have to drive, here's how to handle it.

  • Make sure your car is road-ready. Fill your tank ahead of time, and be sure your emergency kit is stocked in case you need to pull over for an extended period. 

  • Reduce distractions. Consider keeping the radio off and your cell phone stashed out of reach. With the high potential for other distracted drivers on the road, you'll want to pay full attention to keep your own reaction time up.

  • Practice defensive driving. Increase your following distance and slow down. You'll also want to be extra aware of pedestrians who may be looking up instead of both ways at intersections.

  • Keep your eyes on the road. Resist the temptation to look at the sun while you're driving! You could damage your vision and become unable to focus on the road. 

  • Don't wear eclipse glasses while driving. They are too dark to allow you to see the road properly. 

Stay Safe Before, During, and After the Eclipse

The key to driving safely during the eclipse is the same as it is driving during a regular day: knowing your stuff. Brush up on your skills with our online defensive driving course, and you might even be eligible for an insurance discount! 

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