Can You Drive During a State of Emergency?
Last Updated on July 26, 2021
When a state issues a state of emergency, it can change laws in the state.
In some situations, it’s illegal to drive during a state of emergency, and you can and will receive a ticket for driving during a state of emergency. If your state has specifically prohibited driving on the road during the state of emergency, then you may not be able to legally drive.
In most cases, however, you can continue to drive during a state of emergency without penalty.
Can you drive during a state of emergency? When can you drive during a state of emergency? Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about driving laws during states of emergency.
What Is a State of Emergency?
A state of emergency is a situation where the government has the authority to take actions it would not normally be permitted to do. The state of emergency is designed to protect citizens.
Governments around the world use states of emergency for the safety and protection of citizens. They’re most commonly used for natural disasters, civil unrest, armed conflict, and medical pandemics.
In the United States, states of emergency are generally used for incoming natural disasters. If forecasters believe a serious winter storm is about to hit the region, for example, then the governor of the state may issue a state of emergency.
How States of Emergency Work in the United States
The United States Constitution grants emergency powers in its article on executive power. Different states, cities, and jurisdictions may also have their own rules for states of emergency.
Under the National Emergencies Act, a state governor or local mayor may declare a state of emergency within their jurisdiction. The President can also declare a state of emergency for the entire nation.
Each state has its own laws governing what is defined as an emergency.
After a jurisdiction declares a state of emergency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) responds to the incident by providing assets, personnel, and training.
Driving During a State of Emergency
We know how states of emergencies work. But can you drive during a state of emergency? Should you drive during a state of emergency?
Some states request you to avoid driving during a state of emergency. Other states specifically order you to stop driving during a state of emergency.
State of emergency driving rules vary from state to state. In Massachusetts, for example, drivers may be fined up to $500 if caught driving during a travel ban. Massachusetts may issue a travel ban in anticipation of a severe weather event – like a winter storm.
In New Jersey, meanwhile, drivers are permitted to drive and move around during a state of emergency. However, drivers who impede an emergency vehicle or official vehicle during a state of emergency may face a fine of up to $1,000.
Some states use a multi-level warning system. Delaware, for example, can issue a driving warning (which discourages drivers from driving unless they have an important reason), a driving restriction (where roadway use is restricted to certain drivers, including emergency workers), and a driving ban (where only essential vehicles like first responders, snow removal teams, and utility personnel are allowed on the roads).
Ohio has a similar three level system. Under a Level 1 state of emergency declaration in Ohio, drivers are urged to drive cautiously to stay safe on icy or hazardous roads. Under a Level 2 state of emergency, motorists should use extreme caution and only drive when necessary. And under a Level 3 state of emergency, Ohio closes all roadways to non-emergency personnel, and drivers should only drive if it’s absolutely necessary to travel (say, if there’s a personal emergency).
Failing to obey these state-specific laws can lead to arrest, imprisonment, fines, license suspension, and other penalties.
How Does Car Insurance Work During a State of Emergency?
Car insurance should cover you when driving during a state of emergency. It’s rare for an insurance company to deny a claim made during a state of emergency. Most drivers have a legal reason to travel, making it tough for an insurer to legitimately deny your claim.
However, car insurance will never cover intentional damage. If you deliberately drive your vehicle through a blizzard, for example, and roll it into a ditch because you want a new car, then insurance may deny your claim.
If your jurisdiction has issued an order to stop driving, then you may not be covered by car insurance. If your jurisdiction bans all non-essential driving, for example, then you may not be covered by car insurance unless you provide a legally permitted reason to drive. However, these denied claims may not hold up in court, depending on your jurisdiction.
Car insurance covers you when driving – even when driving while making bad decisions. That’s why car insurance covers you when driving under the influence or when driving during a state of emergency.
Reasons to Stay Home During a State of Emergency
If your jurisdiction has issued a state of emergency, then it may be in your best interest to stay home. Even if your jurisdiction has not issued a specific driving ban, there are plenty of reasons to stay home, including:
Leave the roads for emergency workers, snowplows, utility personnel, and others assisting with the state of emergency.
- Avoid unsafe, slippery roads or dangerous driving conditions.
- Avoid causing a problem that a rescue worker needs to solve.
- Avoid making an unnecessary car insurance claim and paying your deductible.
- Avoid fines, arrest, and other penalties (if your state has ordered drivers to avoid driving).
If you have an essential reason to drive – like a medical emergency – then you have a good reason to drive during a state of emergency. Otherwise, you should stay off the roads during a state of emergency.
Final Word on Driving During States of Emergency
A state of emergency allows the government to suspend laws and take unique actions it would normally be unable to take. However, unless your state has specifically ordered you to stay off the road during a state of emergency, you should be able to legally drive during a state of emergency and remain covered by car insurance.
States may issue warnings advising drivers to stay off the road during a state of emergency. Some states may upgrade this warning to an order, expressly forbidding drivers from driving during the state of emergency. If you are caught driving after your state has ordered a driving ban, then you could face fines.
If your jurisdiction has issued a state of emergency, then check the state of emergency declaration to determine any restrictions on driving privileges. The state of emergency should contain specific language explaining what the driving restrictions are and how they work. If there is no specific language regarding driving during a state of emergency, then you should be able to continue driving during the state of emergency.