Important Driving Tips During Eclipse

AAA Mid – Atlantic is urging anyone driving during the solar eclipse on Monday to be careful.


WASHINGTON, D. C. (Monday, August 14, 2017) –– It is a once-in-a-generation sensation and perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to observe a total solar eclipse within the “path of totality.” Some single-minded eclipse chasers hailing from the Washington metro area may travel as far south as Charleston, South Carolina, a distance of 531 miles one-way, down I-95 South. Some armchair astronomers may head to the stillness of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 482.3 miles or seven and a half hours away, to catch the spectacular sight. If you are chasing the eclipse miles from home, be prepared for huge crowds of eclipse watchers, long lines, and roadside delays caused by the influx of travelers from other states into prime eclipse-viewing destinations, in addition to regular summer travel patterns in those areas, advises AAA.

Some AAA Travel Stores in the Washington metro area report running out of AAA TourBooks® andmaps for all the states in the path of the totality. “Our members are going gaga over the eclipse,” explains Victoria Stark, Manager of the AAA Travel Store in Fairfax. “An average of ten to 12 members walk in each day making plans to go into one of the areas in the path of the full eclipse. One Fairfax resident is flying to Idaho and requested a AAA TripTik® to the smallest town in Idaho –thinking not many people will go there.” It is not surprising roundtrip airfares to plum eclipse viewing destinations have reportedly skyrocketed.

Heaven knows, Washington is not in the path of darkness, and as a result it will experience a less spectacular partial eclipse, an approximate 85 percent obstruction during the eclipse, starting at 1:17 p.m. Some Washingtonians are heading south to the path of darkness. South Carolina “emergency planners” are expecting a million visitors (so is Tennessee) to venture onto the state’s roadways and byways to catch the total eclipse along a 67-mile path of totality across its three major cities, Greenville, Columbia and Charleston. Officials there are warning the influx of motorists and tourists heading into the center of South Carolina, the final state in the eclipse track, “Don’t look at the sun while driving” and “don’t wear special eclipse glasses while driving.” As the sun goes completely dark, be prepared for severe gridlock on congested freeways and two lane-state highways along the solar eclipse track. Try to keep a full gas tank.

“Moon-struck eclipse watchers venturing to viewing areas in the 67-mile wide totality band should have a back-up plan. Roads within the path will be beset by peak congestion,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “If one route is severely congested, it may be possible to reach the same destination (or another in the path of totality) by an alternate route. Even major interstate freeways could become overloaded with traffic before and after the total eclipse event.”

With 20 million folks flocking to the path of total eclipse, the availability of hotel rooms in prime eclipse-viewing destinations has dissipated. The same is true for hotels near national parks. They have been booked for months or years in advance. Contact hotel properties directly to discuss remaining availability, including the possibility of any last-minute cancellations, and confirm your reservation, if you have one, advises AAA Travel. If you intend to travel to the path of totality, AAA Mid-Atlantic recommends you have a plan – select a destination, map out a route, book lodging and allow plenty of travel time. These efforts will help ensure you are ready and in place ahead of this late-summer event.

These rare astronomical events, as the new moon moves between the earth and the sun, were once deemed as “omens.” Avoid an ominous outcome during the first cross-country solar eclipse since the advent of the automobile and creation of the free interstate system, warns AAA Mid-Atlantic. For heaven’s sake, don’t stop on the shoulder of a busy interstate or slow down in the middle of a roadway as the sun sneaks behind the moon, law enforcement and highway safety advocates are warning. “Avoid travel during the eclipse or in the area of the main path if you can,” advises the Federal Highway Administration. Also:

  • Try to get to your viewing location one to two days ahead of the eclipse (August 21).
  • Pack your patience and plan for congestion on the road, especially as you get closer to locations within the path of totality.
  • Don’t even think about trying to photograph or video the eclipse while driving.
  • Avoid pulling over to the side of the road to catch the moon completely blotting out the sun.
  • Exit the roadway and park in a safe area away from traffic to view the eclipse.

Heading off the beaten path to catch numinous but fleeting glimpses of the solar eclipse? It’s the most spectacular part of the event. Don’t end up like Captain Ahab chasing the white whale “in the foot-prints of his one unsleeping, ever-pacing thought.” As with all viewing spots for the sun’s corona to the south of the Washington metro area, weather forecasts will be an important consideration. Remember your wireless phone coverage could be spotty and be affected by topography and your distance from “the nearest base station or antenna that your wireless service provider uses,” notes the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Traffic along the path of totality will be nightmarish. Driving off the busy motorway to a remote total eclipse viewing location?  Put safety first while traversing the “path of totality,” which is only about 70 miles wide.

  • If driving to an isolated area to view the eclipse, avoid over-dependence on your GPS device. Take a map. Observe the actual road conditions, warnings and closure signs. Remember to stay on authorized roads.
  • Know the tips for traveling into cellphone dead zones with few cellphone towers or into a place with spotty cell phone coverage, such as areas with obstructions including trees, hills, mountains, valleys, metal structures, and high buildings, or places where a lot of eclipse gazers are trying to access the nearest cell phone tower or place a call. The weather can also impact your cell phone coverage and cellular phone signal, the FCC explains. Check the wireless service provider’s coverage map before choosing a total eclipse viewing site.
  • Keep a full tank of gasoline in your vehicle. Don’t run out of gas when stuck in heavy traffic or near congested observation points.
  • When driving to an observation point, slow down and give clearance to those who are walking along the path to catch the eclipse.
  • Keep up to date on weather conditions – if you find your original location may be cloudy/rainy, you may consider moving to another location.
  • Be prepared for unpredictable weather, such as a thunderstorm, lightning, a downburst, straight- line winds, and flash floods and floods. Pack for the elements. Check the weather reports for the observation site and state highway reports before venturing into isolated areas. If you are in a car, stop the car away from trees or power lines that may fall on you or your vehicle. Avoid the base of steep or unstable slopes and low areas prone to flooding. Stay inside the vehicle.
  • Pack a cell phone with your AAA roadside assistance number on speed dial, a charger, food, water, and any medication you need in your vehicle. Be sure to carry an emergency road kit in the vehicle.
  • Always let someone know your plans and stick to those plans. Always tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return.