Coronavirus-Related Driving Restrictions

How states have altered the rules of the road in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Residents in most states are facing various coronavirus-related travel restrictions. Many of these restrictions either directly or indirectly affect drivers on the roadways. Here are some of the ways temporary COVID-19 rules are impacting vehicular travel.

Stay-at-Home Orders and Driving

Most states have stay-at-home orders in place that allow travel (in a vehicle or otherwise) only for essential purposes. States have varying definitions of “essential.” But, generally, these orders still allow travel to and from gas stations, pharmacies, grocery stores, banks, laundromats, and the like. Of course, to be sure of your own compliance, it’s best to check the specific order that’s in place where you live.

Quarantine Requirements for Travelers Coming from Out-of-State

Generally, interstate travel isn’t banned. But most, if not all, states are strongly discouraging crossing state lines unless it’s related to essential travel. For example, some people might need to go to another state to get medical attention or assist a loved one who’s in need of help. Also, a person’s employment might require out-of-state travel. For instance, commercial drivers—who are instrumental in keeping supply chains moving—routinely must transport goods from one state to another.

Lots of states are now requiring (or suggesting) a 14-day period of self-quarantine for anyone who has recently come from out-of-state. Some of the state self-quarantine rules are directed only to those who come from states like New York and California that have a high number of coronavirus cases. And self-quarantine restrictions generally include exceptions for essential workers like truck drivers and healthcare professionals.

Checkpoints and Vehicle Stops

With travel-related restrictions, enforcement is tricky. Issuing an order is one thing, but ensuring people follow it is quite another. Police officers—who are in charge of enforcing these restrictions—generally have no way of knowing where drivers are en route to or coming from. So, how can law enforcement determine whether a person is driving for essential purposes or has recently entered from out-of-state?

States have handled enforcement issues in different ways. Some states haven’t officially implemented any new procedures to ensure people abide by coronavirus travel-related restrictions. Other states have started using checkpoints where law enforcement stops all vehicles to ask drivers and passengers about their comings and goings and travel purposes. And, in at least one state, the governor has given law enforcement authority to stop anyone with out-of-state plates to ask about recent travel and inform the vehicle occupants of the state’s quarantine requirement.

However, the legality of these enforcement measures, at least to some extent, remains in question. As with all new laws—especially those that might impinge on individual constitutional rights—legal challenges are certain to follow and it’ll take time to hash things out in the courts.

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