Interest in the biggest coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in the U.S. is growing and expected to peak on Monday, Aug. 21, the day of the event. Fourteen states -- from Oregon to South Carolina -- lie in the “totality zone”, a 70-mile-wide, 3,000-mile-long arc where the moon will appear to completely blot the sun. With the buzz surrounding this celestial event, the Automobile Club of Southern California cautions those seeking an ideal location to view the eclipse to be mindful of traffic congestion and distracted driving.
In fact, the “totality” zone will traverse at least 20 interstates, small state routes, country roads and local streets. On Monday, the longest period when the moon blocks the sun from any location along the eclipse path will be approximately two to three minutes,
“About 200 million (a little less than 2/3 of the nation’s population) live within one day’s drive of the eclipse zone and may be searching for a view,” according to Anita Lorz Villagrana, manager of the Auto Club’s Traffic Safety and Community Affairs Department. “National and local agencies are warning travelers that they could encounter traffic jams along various points of the totality zone or other areas where the eclipse may be visible. Even in Southern California, we are expected to see about 75 percent of the eclipse, which may cause people to park where they usually might not be expected to park.”
The Auto Club and AAA recommend eclipse road travelers be ready for traffic, congestion, and gridlock in the “totality” zone in the days surrounding the eclipse. Parts of the eclipse path of “totality” stretch across metro and rural areas and two-lane highways, so the Auto Club and AAA advise drivers to allow extra time, expect heavy traffic – along with the possibility of mishaps – which may cause delays. In addition, AAA Oregon/Idaho says it’s preparing for at least 6,000 roadside calls per day around the time of the eclipse.
The Auto Club and AAA’s car care tips for the Aug. 21 “Great American Eclipse”:
- The top three roadside assistance calls to AAA in summer are for batteries, flat tires and lockouts. Some motorists also may run out of fuel in bumper-to-bumper traffic jams. If driving to see the eclipse, schedule a checkup beforehand for your car. Take your vehicle to a AAA-Approved Auto Repair facility for a once over and get any needed maintenance taken care of before heading out. Oil and fluids condition, battery tests and tire inspections should be on the list to check. Summer heat is the top cause of battery failure.
- Travel with an emergency kit in your car with food, water, medications, flashlight, first-aid kit, flares or emergency triangles, cell phone, cell phone charger, windshield washer fluid and extra cash.
- Leave early and expect delays. Roadways around the “totality” zone will be extremely busy. Be patient.
- Keep sufficient fuel in your tank. Keep the level at about half a tank. Carry food and water for your passengers and pets.
- Always lock your vehicle and do not leave valuables in your car.
- AAA members needing help can call for Roadside Assistance or use the free AAA Mobile App for iPhone, iPad and Android. The app can be used to map a route, find discounts and find the cheapest gas near you. Consider bringing a paper map with you in case cell phone towers are overwhelmed.
More safe driving tips for the “Great American Eclipse”:
- Choose courtesy. Be watchful, alert and courteous of others on the roads, highways and interstates.
- Do not drive distracted; don’t use a cell phone or other devices while driving. Focus on the “task” of driving.
- Don’t look at the eclipse while driving and don’t take photos while driving.
- Don’t stop along the interstate or park on the shoulder during the event. Do not drive or park on dry grass – it’s a fire danger.
- To view and/or photograph the eclipse, exit the highway to a safe location.
- While operating a vehicle, don’t wear eclipse glasses.
- Turn your headlights on -- do not rely on your automatic headlights when the eclipse blocks out the sun. Make sure lights are on once the moon crosses in front of the sun.
- Watch out for pedestrians and cyclists along smaller roads. People may be parking, walking and cycling alongside the road before the eclipse to get a view. Look for pedestrians who also may be looking up and not looking ahead.
- Anticipate heavy congestion, especially on the interstates in the path on the day before, day of and day after the eclipse.
- August is peak highway construction season. Safety devices like cones, barrels and changeable message signs will be in place, posing a potential risk for distracted drivers even if construction workers may not be present.
Lastly, doctors say severe eye damage can occur if viewing the eclipse without special eclipse glasses. It may be too late to purchase certified eclipse glasses, so take advantage of planetariums, science museums and libraries hosting eclipse-related activities and viewings.
The next solar eclipse to cross the United States will be on April 8, 2024. The path of totality for this eclipse will cut from Texas to Maine. The country won’t get another coast-to-coast eclipse until Aug. 12, 2045 and there’s plenty of time to plan for that.