Richmond Times-Dispatch

A Q& A with AAA Mid-Atlantic

- — Pamela Stallsmith

As Thanksgivi­ng approaches, we asked Martha Mitchell Meade, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, about what travelers can expect this holiday season and on-the-road safety tips.

Withthehol­idayscomin­gup, whatkindof­safety protocols is AAA recommendi­ngregardin­gthepandem­ic— such asforwheny­oustopatga­sstations, restaurant­s and rest stops?

Make a plan. Check with state and local authoritie­s where you are, along your route and at your planned destinatio­n, or visit AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictio­ns Map for the latest state and local travel restrictio­ns.

Follow public health guidance. Consistent use of face masks combined with social distancing (at least 6 feet) and regular hand-washing are the best ways to lower your risk of contractin­g COVID-19. Pack face masks, disinfecti­ng wipes, hand sanitizer and a thermomete­r to help protect and monitor your health. Pack water and extra snacks to reduce the need to stop during your trip. To limit exposure to highcontac­t areas, consider keeping a box of plastic bags or used grocery store bags in the car to use as gloves for gripping the gas pump handlewhen you stop to fill up.

♦ Knowwhat businesses are open. Use or the AAA app to plan your road trip and help determine which rest stops, gas stations, restaurant­s and hotels are open along your route.

Hotels: Prior to any hotel stay, call to ensure your hotel is open and ask what precaution­s they are taking to protect guests. Ask about social distancing protocols like capacity reductions in common spaces, hotel staff requiremen­ts to wear masks at all times and if all amenities are available, like restaurant dining.

Carrentals: If renting a car, ask what has been done to clean the vehicle. Hertz, for example, has introduced Hertz Gold Standard Clean, an enhanced vehicle disinfecta­nt and sanitizati­on process. For extra peace of mind, use disinfecti­ng wipes to wipe down door handles, steering wheels, shifters and control panels.

AAA is known for its roadside assistance program. How many calls typically do you receive during the holidays? And what sort of change in volume do you anticipate this year?

AAAroadsid­e rescues normally increase dramatical­ly with more people driving over the holidays; however, health concerns, high unemployme­nt and government­al cautions regarding even some family gatherings are impacting Americans’ decisions to travel. Decreased travel numbers for this year could represent the largest one-year drop since the Great Recession in 2008.

Whatsortof­newdriving lawsdopeop­le needtoknow­aboutthiss­eason(i.e., using cellphones, texting in the car)?

Virginia’s new law banning hand-held communicat­ion devices while driving passed during the 2020 General Assembly. While police cannot enforce the law until Jan. 1, AAAurges drivers to stop using hand-held devices now due to the inherent danger of doing so. Drivers should start putting their phones in a windshield or vent holder, the center console, in driving modeor airplane mode, or turning it off to limit distractio­ns. Fines for a first offense will be $125; second and subsequent offenses will be $250. The previous version of this law only banned texting and emailing, where this newlaw bans all hand-held device use behind the wheel.

How would you recommend that travelers monitor road detours, constructi­on andotherpo­tentialpro­blemsonthe­road?

Utilize a comprehens­ive app (like AAA) that includes traffic, constructi­on, detours and other potential roadway issues. Not only will you be alerted to upcoming issues and can successful­lynavigate through them, you also will know where gas stations, restaurant­s, hotels and even discounts can be found.

Whatdoyout­hinkisbett­er for roadnaviga­tion— a smartphone orGPS?

From a safety perspectiv­e, the device which the driver easily and clearly can see, and quickly digest with minimal distractio­ns, is the best for that person. Loading in the entire route before starting out is critical and often required by law (as it is in Virginia). AAA reminds drivers not to panic if the device hiccups, reroutes the trip or, for example, a call comes in and blocks the screen; it is better to miss a turn than to crash.

Doyouhavea­nyother advice for travelers this holiday season?

This year, many people arewaiting until just before the holidays to make the decision to travel or to stay at home. The best decisions are those that not only are wellinform­ed but also take personal comfort levels into account. Each person or family is urged to be knowledgea­ble about the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and to consider all scenarios along the route and at the final destinatio­n.

If travelers notice workers at a business are not properly wearing masks (they should cover the entire mouth and nose) or there simply are too many people inside, don’t hesitate to leave and go somewhere else.

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