Emilie Worsham's picture

Aug 16, 2017

By:

Emilie Worsham

Business Systems Analyst

Few events in U.S. history have been able to bring the entire nation to a standstill. But another “standstill moment” is just a few days away. And it raises the question for truck drivers, dispatchers, managers, freight managers, and trucking executives — and for their customers: “Are you ready?”

On Monday, a solar eclipse will sweep across the 48 contiguous states for the first time in 99 years. It is highly likely that the eclipse will significantly disrupt highway traffic and, as a result, the operations of transportation companies and logistics-dependent businesses.

Though we’ve known for years — more than a century, actually — that this event was going to happen, many transportation companies haven’t given it much thought until very recently. Some companies haven’t given this event enough consideration, if any at all. An eclipse with this broad of an impact on the United States promises to be a huge event with potentially staggering economic impacts. Carriers and other transportation companies would do well to look at it like a major weather event — a massive winter storm or a hurricane.

Alternate routes could keep you moving around congestion

The U.S. Department of Transportation says that trucking fleets lose more than 30 billion vehicle hours due to weather-related congestion each year, with an estimated cost to trucking companies of up to $3.5 billion. Even if the eclipse only impacts 75 to 90 minutes out of the heart of one day, simple math tells us that the impact will be measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Lauren Domnick, Omnitracs’ Senior Director of Analytics & Modeling, says that “since the industry hasn’t experienced this level of solar eclipse in years, being extra cautious before, during and after the event is necessary. If you are on the road and have the option to avoid the high-traffic cities, definitely take advantage of an alternate route.”

To be sure, only a relatively thin, 70-mile-wide cross section of the nation, stretching from the Pacific shores of Oregon to the Atlantic beaches of South Carolina, will experience “total eclipse”; a brief period of about two minutes of total darkness when the moon will completely cover the disc of the sun. Depending on how far away from that line of totality you are during the eclipse, you will experience varying degrees of a partial eclipse. But no matter where we are on Monday, we will be in for a dramatic, even breathtaking show in the daytime sky.

Because this phenomenon is so rare, interesting, and mesmerizing, it’s a safe bet that America will come to a standstill during the middle of the day, albeit on a rolling basis as the moon’s shadow races across the continent at a speed of nearly 800 mph. So here’s what those in the transportation industry can expect to encounter before, during and immediately after the eclipse:

  • Lots of drivers pulling off the road to watch the event. Drivers of big rigs should anticipate some difficulties in finding safe spaces to park so that they, too, can watch the eclipse.
  • A significant increase in distracted driving, as motorists in private vehicles and, unfortunately, big trucks try to watch the eclipse unfold while they continue driving down the highway.
  • Work in highway construction zones will come to a stop, both because darkness will make it difficult or impossible to continue working and because the workers themselves will want to watch the rare event above them.
  • Traffic jams are more likely to develop as a result of eclipse-caused highway bottlenecks and wrecks.
  • Lots of deliveries may be delayed that day because of traffic conditions.
     

5 things you can do to prepare for the solar eclipse

What can truckers, dispatchers, freight managers, transportation company executives and even those companies dependent upon on-time delivery of goods do to prepare for the disruptions that are almost certain to be caused by the eclipse?

  1. Plan ahead. Have drivers report to work 60 to 90 minutes early that day, or tell them to expect to work 60 to 90 minutes longer than usual, with the understanding that they’ll be allowed to pull off and watch the eclipse.
  2. Alert customers well in advance that deliveries are likely to be delayed. They may want to shift delivery dates to avoid the disruption.
  3. Use route planning and traffic monitoring technology to avoid bottlenecks and wrecks that occur because of the eclipse. Provide drivers with links to websites that will help them determine when the eclipse will be happening where they are going.
  4. Use technology to locate good and safe places for drivers to park and enjoy the eclipse.
  5. Place special emphasis on safety. Drivers need to be reminded that the eclipse is likely to trigger unusual and especially challenging driving conditions (darkness, cars parked on the shoulder, etc.) 


For more information about the eclipse, here are some helpful websites:

How to view the eclipse: https://www.exploratorium.edu/eclipse/how-to-view-eclipse 

Determining when the eclipse will occur at any given location (and the degree of “totality” to expect there: https://eyes.jpl.nasa.gov/eyes-on-eclipse.html and https://eclipse.aas.org/ 
 

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