What you need to know driving in a solar eclipse

This photo provided by Bob Baer and Sarah Kovac, participants in the Citizen CATE Experiment, shows a “diamond ring” shape during the 2016 total solar eclipse in Indonesia. AAA officials are warning area motorists about the dangers of driving during Monday, Aug. 21’s solar eclipse.
This photo provided by Bob Baer and Sarah Kovac, participants in the Citizen CATE Experiment, shows a “diamond ring” shape during the 2016 total solar eclipse in Indonesia. AAA officials are warning area motorists about the dangers of driving during Monday, Aug. 21’s solar eclipse. R. Baer, S. Kovac/Citizen CATE Experiment via AP

Drivers are familiar with the many hazards they regularly face on the regions’s roads: snow in the winter, wet leaves in the fall, sun glare during rush hours.

But there’s one hazard they could be forgiven for not knowing how to deal with – driving during a solar eclipse.

On Monday afternoon, if it’s not cloudy, that is the rare condition drivers in the Philadelphia region will face, the AAA motor club is warning.

“As spectacular as this once-in-a-lifetime event will be, if you happen to catch a glimpse of it while behind the wheel, do not turn your eyes away from the road,” said Jana L. Tidwell, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Aside from damaging your eyes, looking at the eclipse while driving is distracted driving at its worst. While AAA recommends staying off the road during the eclipse, if you have to drive keep sun visors and cell phones down to protect your eyes, reduce temptation to look at the sun, and avoid distracted driving.”

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In the Philadelphia region, the eclipse begins 1:21 p.m., peaks at 2:44 p.m. and ends at 4:01 p.m., the motor club noted.

“Quite honestly, people probably aren’t thinking about driving safety right now,” Kathleen Miller of AAA said. “But this is going to happen on a Monday afternoon and people are going to be on the road. People should be prepared and make a decision about whether they need to be on the road at that time.”

The area will not get a 100 percent solar eclipse but it will get enough of one that people should use precautions. Permanent eye damage can result from staring for too long at the unusual celestial event.

“In Philadelphia and the surrounding region, the moon will begin to block the sun at 1:21 p.m. and will continue to increase until 2:45 p.m., at which point about 80 percent of the sun’s diameter will be blocked,” according to Harry Augensen, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Widener University Observatory. “While the eclipse is an awe-inspiring sight, do not look directly at the sun’s harmful rays without wearing special eclipse glasses or welder’s glasses.”

The concern, Augesen said Monday, is that because the sun is dark people think it is not harming their eyes to look at it for an extended period of time. Typically, if a person looks at the sun they instinctively look away after a short time because it hurts their eyes.

“The eye is deceived into thinking it can continue to look at it. The eye is fooled,” said Augesen, who plans to view the event with relatives in Nebraska where the eclipse will be 98.5 percent.

For those on the road during the eclipse, AAA offers the following advice:

• Keep headlights on.

• Put the sun visor down to block your view of the sun.

• Do not wear eclipse glasses while driving.

• Do not try to photograph or video the eclipse while driving.

• Do not pull over to the side of the road, highway or interstate to view the eclipse. Exit the roadway and park in a safe area away from traffic.

• Be mindful of pedestrians that many be walking around with their eyes on the sky.

Interested in seeing a total eclipse? Charleston, South Carolina is able to provide that, if the weather cooperates. The sun is due to be 100 percent blocked in the skies over Charleston at 2:47 p.m. on Monday.

April 2024 will be the next time America sees a solar eclipse, although that one won’t visit this area (northwestern Pennsylvania will be the closest it will be to this area, Augesen said).

The last time a transcontinental solar eclipse was seen in the U.S. was June 8, 1918; the next one will be in 2079, the professor said.

– To contact Business Writer Brian McCullough, call 610-235-2655 or send an email to bmccullough@21st-centurymedia.com.