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- Should you be driving at all right now? We asked the Michigan State Police about that.
- One thing’s for sure, you should avoid driving other people who aren’t in your immediate household.
- We’ll all have to get creative about trips in the car, and a lot of people have found ways to celebrate, socialize, and get things done while maintaining social distancing. So can you.
Since Car and Driver’s (closed) office is in Michigan, we reached out to the Michigan State Police to answer the question, Is it safe to go out for a drive during the coronavirus-related shutdown? A public-affairs spokesperson reinforced that Michigan’s order allows for travel “for the limited purposes of engaging in an outdoor activity and performing the tasks necessary to maintaining an individual’s or family’s health and safety, such as going to the hospital or grocery store.”
Most states have similar exceptions. A nice drive in the country could, in theory, be considered an outdoor activity. You can maintain social distance in your car. But is it the best idea? Not according to the state police: “As much as possible, Michiganders are encouraged to stay home because it is the safest place to be during this public-health emergency.”
If you’re wondering whether you should go in the car or not, the biggest question is of distance. How far are you going? And how much space can you put between you and everyone else?
If you’re tossing the family in the car to take a loop around town and then head home without any stops, that’s not much different from being at home with them. Stick with the people you’re socially distancing with. That’s the safest route.
That also means you shouldn’t pick up hitchhikers—not that we recommend that ever—and you probably shouldn’t give anyone who needs one a ride. If you know someone who needs something, you could offer to pick it up for them. And if you’re considering whether now might be the time for a road trip to Disney, it’s not. Also, Disney is closed.
“Traveling longer distances by car is not advisable right now, unless it is of a more urgent nature,” Rachel Patzer, an epidemiologist and director of health services research at Emory University School of Medicine, told the New York Times. “If it is far enough that it requires you to refuel or stop for food, this may be more difficult to practice social distancing and could put you or others at risk.”
Maintain social distancing, keep it close to home, and keep your car clean, however, and there are ways to get behind the wheel and spread a little joy. Birthday parties have been replaced by parades of friends in cars. Teachers have queued up and rolled through neighborhoods, waving to students, as in the photo at top. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, on April 8, first responders staged a parade in their emergency vehicles to thank health-care workers for their efforts.
Just don’t be dumb. With less traffic, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation estimates speeds are up as much as 30 percent around the city. Police in Portland, Oregon, saw an immediate jump in the number of tickets they were giving to drivers caught going between 20 mph and 30 mph over the speed limit. As shown recently by the ridiculous wreck of a Porsche-based Gemballa Mirage GT in Manhattan, higher rates of speed—even on nearly empty streets—increase the chance of very stupid, very serious accidents.
The last thing any hospital system needs at the moment is one more patient. And the last thing you need is to be visiting a hospital at this moment in time. Whether it’s the result of a car accident or accidentally spreading disease doesn’t matter.