Driving Distraction, Eye Safety Concerns Cast Shadow on Eclipse Excitement

Sold out hotels, viewing parties and special media coverage will culminate today, when a total solar eclipse will be visible across the entire U.S. But along with the excitement comes safety concerns, according to various government agencies.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) warns that the eclipse could cause the worst driving distraction ever seen.

2017 eclipse path. Map: FHWA

According to a blog post by FHWA Associate Administrator for Operations Martin Knopp, fourteen states will experience a total eclipse, meaning roads will be dark in the middle of the day for about two minutes, he said.

The agency urges drivers to avoid pulling over at unsafe locations, like stopping on an interstate at the last minute from which to view the eclipse.

Besides road safety concerns, agencies are worried about the use of unsafe eclipse glasses. According Knopp, “The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as eclipse glasses or handheld solar viewers. Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the sun.”

In May 2012, people in western states in the U.S. and in eastern Asia were treated to a “ring of fire” eclipse. The late day sun became a glowing ring in southwest Oregon, northern California, central Nevada, southern Utah, northern Arizona and New Mexico and finally the Texas Panhandle. Parts of the West, Midwest and South – and portions of Canada and Mexico – were treated to a partial eclipse. The Eastern Seaboard was shut out.

Following that eclipse, a driver who hit a mother and daughter crossing the street in San Francisco blamed the crash on glare from the “ring of fire.”

Prevent Blindness, a national volunteer agency, said that viewing a solar eclipse without proper eye protection could lead to symptoms like loss of central vision, distorted vision or changes in color vision.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) has a page on its website that lists vendors selling reputable solar eclipse glasses (Reputable Vendors of Solar Filters & Viewers).

In order to safely view the eclipse, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) offers a link to print out pinhole projectors.