woman driving vintage car
Photo by Matthew Henry

Cruising: Is It Safe to Go for a Drive During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

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‘Short drives for a change of scenery imply low risk, but they should be seen as a small treat.’

Beaches are closed. Hiking trails have mostly shuttered across the city. And several parks have shut down as well. But for the first time in decades, the freeways are wide open. The nearly empty, ocean-adjacent Highway 1 and the snow-crested Angeles Forest Highway practically call out for a Sunday drive. But is it responsible — and safe — to hop in your car for a leisurely ride?

For some answers, we turned to Dr. Monya De, a physician in Los Angeles who also writes about health for publications such as ABC Medical News.

“While doctors are currently working under the assumption that air that reaches you in the car containing a virus particle or two is unlikely to land you in the ICU, there are no studies showing what dose of virus definitely correlates with no infection, symptom-free infection or mild infection,” De says.

Studies show the coronavirus can remain airborne for several hours and survive on plastic surfaces for up to three days. It’s probably wise to disinfect our dashboards and steering wheels before and after any outing. But what about going for a casual cruise?

“Short drives for a change of scenery imply low risk, but they should be seen as a small treat after a week of staying at home,” De says. “Stay to lower-speed roads, since you run the risk of getting COVID-19 and getting hit harder by the virus if your car is hit and you are brought in to a hospital (a high viral load place).”

Any other tips? Bring your own water and snacks to minimize the need for stops. If you turn on your AC or heat, switch to recirculated air to keep outside air from entering your car, De advises. And “use hand sanitizer copiously.”

If you need to stop for gas, the CDC recommends you wear gloves or use disinfecting wipes on the handles and buttons at the gas pump — if available. And after you fuel up, pile on hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol and, obviously, wash your hands for more than 20 seconds when you get home.

The most important takeaway from medical experts? Don’t get in the car with anyone who is sick.

Los Angeleno