Summer road trips will feel very different this year, with fewer cars on the road as the country begins to reopen slowly following restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus.
Ahead of Memorial Day, the traditional start of the summer travel season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends staying home as much as possible.
The CDC advises people to not travel if they’re sick, are in a higher-risk group for the coronavirus or live with someone who is. Higher-risk groups include people 65 and older and those with chronic health conditions.
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But many Americans are considering road trips as a minimal-contact vacation option as opposed to the close quarters of traveling by plane. Those who do make summer travel driving plans may encounter checkpoints at state lines, quarantine orders, closed welcome centers and rest areas, and fewer open hotels and restaurants.
Social distancing guidelines remain in place, and travelers may be required to wear a face mask when they stop for gas, groceries or other supplies.
“I don’t think this is going to be like any other kind of summer,” said Joseph Allen, an assistant professor of exposure assessment science at Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health. “Everything is going to be very different.”
The good news? Travelers will benefit from the lowest gas prices in 17 years, according to AAA. The national average is $1.87, about a dollar lower than a year ago. AAA says to expect prices to rise above $2 over the summer as states reopen and demand increases.
Summer road trippers will need to do more planning and preparation than they might otherwise. Hotel reservations should be made in advance, directly with the hotel. Motorists should plan on eating take-out food or bringing their own. They should check ahead to see which welcome centers and rest stops may be closed.
AAA has an interactive map that shows state-by-state restrictions that may affect road trippers. However, information is changing quickly, spokesman Jim Stratton said, so travelers should check multiple sources to see what they should expect at their destination and along the way.
The National Governors Association also has a state-by-state interactive map that shows coronavirus-related state restrictions and conditions travelers should know.
Checkpoints and quarantines
Rhode Island and Florida require drivers entering the state to check in.
Roadside checkpoints on interstates are set up to check for potential coronavirus cases. Drivers are diverted from the interstate to a rest area or weigh station, where they fill out a form provided by state police. Commercial trucks are allowed to bypass the screening.
Since March, Florida has required drivers from Louisiana, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to quarantine for 14 days, or the duration of their stay in the state, whichever is shorter. The restriction does not apply to airline employees, military personnel, commercial drivers or health care workers.
Travelers to Rhode Island must quarantine on arrival unless traveling for business. All cars with out-of-state plates are required to stop.
Texas ended roadside checkpoints at the Louisiana border in late April.
While most states may not have border checkpoints, some still require a 14-day quarantine for visitors.
The U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico land borders have been closed to nonessential travel since late March and will remain closed until June 22, the Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday.
Welcome centers and rest areas
Some welcome centers and rest areas are closed, and travelers should check each state’s transportation department website for the most up-to-date information.
Masks and social distancing
Several states require people to wear face coverings in public: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Rhode Island. Many others recommend it.
Social distancing guidelines remain in effect across the country, discouraging large gatherings and encouraging people to stay six feet apart.
State and regional tolling authorities across the country have closed their cash toll collection. If you don’t have a transponder such as E-ZPass, expect to be billed by mail. That includes the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the New York Thruway, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Ohio Turnpike toll collectors still take cash, but have been provided with nitrile gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. The Indiana Toll Road has advised drivers paying with cash to expect delays at toll plazas due to reduced staffing.
The Florida Turnpike has stopped taking cash tolls. Those who do not have a SunPass account will receive an invoice by mail. The Florida Department of Transportation is temporarily waiving the $2.50 invoice administrative fee.
The Maryland Transportation Authority has switched to all-electronic tolling at its bridges and tunnels. Delaware’s toll roads and bridges have also gone cashless.
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