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Is it Safe to Drive Across America?

Arches National Park (photo: Dino Reichmuth)

For many people, flying to a destination vacation anytime in the next few months is probably off the table.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made many people rethink their vacation plans, and an increasing number of people are choosing to drive across America rather than fly. 

According to a recent survey conducted by the US Travel Association and MMGY Travel Intelligence, 67% of travelers are likely to travel in their cars during the next six months.

This figure is more than double the percentage planning to travel by air during the same period.  

The all-American road trip is enjoying a revival, but how safe is it to drive across America?

Anyone thinking about making such a journey knows that it’s not a simple case of jumping in the car and putting the pedal to the metal. 

Safety measures have to be kept in mind, precautions taken, and plans made.

And if you’re heading out on the road because you’re moving house, consider booking with one of the many companies shipping cars cross country

It’s also important to realize that taking a road trip might not work for everyone.

While it’s very tempting to get away for a bit, coming into contact with others or visiting highly trafficked places increases your risk of exposure to the virus. 

If you want to enjoy a safe road trip this summer, here are some travel tips. 

Plan your route and location

Many places across the US are opening up their doors again, but this doesn’t signal the pandemic’s end.

It’s possible to contract the virus wherever you might be, which makes it all the more important to plan. 

The AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) recommends mapping out the roadways and states you’re going to pass through.

Make a list, and you can check whether there are any relevant travel advisories you should be aware of.

These might include changes in rest-area food sales and toll collection. 

The Federal Highway Administration has a directory of state transportation department websites.

There you’ll be able to find the latest information about state-specific coronavirus-related changes.

Other links are also available such as weather and traffic alerts. 

It’s also a good idea to call ahead and confirm which attractions and hotels are open.

Find out about capacity limits and, if possible, make reservations in advance.  

Remember to protect and sanitize

Keeping clean when out on the road is essential, but never more so than now.

Pack your car with sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer, sanitizing spray, gloves, face mask, and perhaps even a thermometer.

Above all, remember to practice good and frequent hand-washing.

Try to reduce your time spent in rest stops by packing your own snacks and drinks.

Store an emergency kit in your car because you never know when you might need it.

Your kit should include:

  • Car charger for your cell phone
  • First-aid kit
  • Blanket
  • Snacks and drinking water for humans and pets
  • Flashlight and spare batteries
  • Paper towels or rags
  • Ice scraper or snow brush
  • Basic tools
  • Road flares or reflectors
  • Traction aid (sand or salt)
  • Jumper cables
  • Shovel
  • Tarp
  • Raincoat 

Not all these items are going to apply to everyone, so use your best judgment.  

Nevada desert (photo: Suzanne Emily O'Connor)
Nevada desert (photo: Suzanne Emily O'Connor)

When stopping at gas stations and rest stops, take proper precautions

You’re probably going to need to stop at a gas station and make rest stops along the way. To stay safe, you should try not to touch anything.

If there are people close, wear a mask. Wear gloves as a barrier between your skin and other surfaces.

When you’re done, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly or use hand sanitizer. 

According to the CDC, physical cash, credit, and debit cards could be sources of virus transmission.

The advice is not to touch your face after handling paper and coin money. Place cash on the counter rather than handing it over directly.

Use a hand sanitizer after transactions and use touchless payment options if they’re available.

When it comes to pumping gas, use gloves or some other kind of barrier between your skin and everything else.

Gas pump number pads and touch screens are all touched by many people during the day. Avoid contact with them if at all possible.     

Before you eat, sanitize your space

To cut back on trips to convenience stores, pack extra refreshments in your car.

If you have to eat-in, wipe down the table first with a disinfectant wipe. Use hand sanitizer after interacting with servers or cashiers. 

Safer options include curbside pick-up or drive-through as they reduce your interaction with other people. 

Sanitize your accommodations

Not all hotels will be operating normally, so the smart thing to do is call ahead to confirm your reservation if you want to stay somewhere overnight.

The CDC has published a guide on how to clean and disinfect places like hotel rooms.  

Be prepared for traffic

Many people are hesitant to use public transport, which means more people are using their cars to commute.

All over the world, driving is seeing a spike in popularity. There’s a possibility it could return even stronger than before. 

Be aware of traffic hotspots throughout your road trip. Try to avoid them if possible, but if you can’t, stay calm and be patient. 

Watch your speed

According to Business Insider, there has been a spike in speeding on emptier-than-normal highways.

When you’re driving on the highway, be aware of your speed at all times.

Local law enforcement is aware there is an issue and will be looking out for it as well. 

Practice a system called READ the Road:

  • R…..ight speed for right now
  • E…..yes up, brain on
  • A…..nticipate their next move
  • D…..onut of space around your car, in case you need to make an emergency maneuver 

Maintain your vehicle

Breaking down on the highway or getting a flat tire is almost unavoidable.

However, there are things you can do to reduce the chance of it happening. Maintaining your vehicle is key. 

Regularly schedule maintenance checkups and periodically change your oil.

Don’t ignore any unusual noises, smells, vibrations, and always keep a close eye on the engine light.

Disregard these signs at your peril. Nip them in the bud, and the potential for resulting damage will be less. 

To ward off a blowout or other tire issues, make sure they have a healthy amount of treat before your journey.

In the US, the standard tread depth is measured in 1/32” increments, according to Tire America.

New tires have a tread depth of 10/32”. If the tread on your tires is 2/32” or less, you need to replace them. 

If you’re not sure about your car’s tire depth, there’s an easy way to check it. All you need is a quarter.

Insert it into your tire tread groove. If the tread touched Washington’s head, you have at least 4/32” of tread remaining.  

Another way is to look at the tread wear indicator bar you’ll find molded into most tires.

You’ll find these bars located at the bottom of the tread grooves in several locations around the tire.

If the bar is visibly flush with the adjacent ribs, the tire has no more than 2/32” tread remaining.  


This story is brought to you in partnership with SGT Auto Transport Corp.

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