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​Eclipse fever could trigger traffic and mobile-phone gridlock

Eclipse-spotters may be tempted to roll up in Oregon, where marijuana is legal

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Saturday 19 August 2017 01:41 BST
High School students using their eclipse glasses during a trial run yesterday
High School students using their eclipse glasses during a trial run yesterday (AP)

Ahead of Monday’s total solar eclipse, American motorists have been warned not to behave irresponsibly.

The US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) fears reckless behaviour as the total solar eclipse sweeps across the nation could lead to tragedies.

It is warning against stopping on interstate highways and taking pictures while driving. The eclipse crosses 24 interstates (major freeways) on its journey from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic.

There are fears of gridlock as millions of sightseers converge on the “line of totality”, the narrow band of terrain where the moon blots out the sun completely.

Ideally, the FHWA says, tourists should “avoid travel during the eclipse”. It is urging motorists to “prepare for extra congestion especially on the interstates in the path on the day before, day of and day after the eclipse.”

It warns “people may be randomly parking and walking alongside the roadside in the hours around the eclipse to get the best view”.

The FHWA cautions against wearing “eclipse glasses” while driving; they are designed to protect the eye against light from the sun during a partial eclipse. Everywhere in the continental US apart from the northern tip of Maine and the southern tip of Texas will see the moon block out at least half the sun.

Eye specialists and hospitals across the US are working on the basis that they may have to deal with thousands of people who have damaged their sight by looking directly at the sun to view the partial eclipse.

Plans to handle emergency admissions are being complicated by predictions that mobile phone networks may be overwhelmed by the number of people uploading images and videos to social media.

In St Louis, Missouri, one of the largest cities touched by the line of totality, there are fears that ambulances could be caught up in what is predicted to be severe congestion immediately after the event. The last total solar eclipse to pass over the Midwest city was in 1442.

Elsewhere along the line of totality, accommodation rates are soaring. But in the Oregon state capital, Salem, public parks are being opened up for camping.

Some eclipse-spotters may be tempted to roll up in Oregon because of the state’s legalisation of marijuana. Up to an ounce can be bought from licensed dealers.

But the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which regulates sales of the drug, is aiming to weed out misbehaviour by stressing the tight rules on smoking dope.

“Recreational marijuana consumption is not allowed in a public place,” it warns.

Many locations that could entice eclipse-watchers, such as beaches and parks, are classed as public places. Before lighting up elsewhere, users should note: “Recreational marijuana consumption may be subject to Oregon’s Clean Air Act.”

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