Travel Bans: When Hopping in Your Car Becomes Illegal

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We’re sure your Twitter feed was inundated with updates and musings over the (some would say snowverrated) #Snowpocalypse of 2015. Winter storm Juno hit the northeast hard, dumping three feet of snow in Boston, with drifts up to six feet high in some places. The weather was so inclement, in fact, that it warranted travel bans in some cities and states. At Juno’s peak, New York had a travel ban in 13 counties, in addition to shutting down its subway system for 10 hours—the first time in its history, due to snow. Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey all implemented state-wide travel bans.

One might understand this ban as a necessity when the Weather Channel is throwing around words like “historic” and “life-threatening”. But here’s the big question: what happens when there’s a ban on travel? As we type, the Northeast is looking at two more potential snowmakers to hit before Valentine’s Weekend. What are the consequences of a travel ban for drivers and infrastructure alike? Getting from A to Z is a deeply engrained part of our daily lives—so what happens when all commuting is literally brought to a legally screeching halt?


When it comes to travel bans, are they mere suggestion, or is it actually illegal to drive? The Indiana Department of Homeland Security explains on their website how to go about addressing the climate in statuses including advisories, watches, and warnings. You’ll notice at the “warning” level, they ask citizens not only to “refrain from travel” but also to “obey and comply with the lawful directions of properly identified officers.”

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According to 22 News, getting caught in the car during a ban is punishable by a year in jail and a $500 fine. Usually exemptions do apply to essential state employees, utility workers and health care personnel. So, the point of a travel ban is to keep unnecessary travelers off roads in dangerous conditions. Along with travel bans comes school and company closures, rendering travel less motivating in order to keep folks safe.

Just what kind of crime are you committing if you break a travel ban? Colonel Steven O’Donnel with the Rhode Island State Police reported:

“We would not like to enforce it if we can avoid it, but yes, if someone decides to be on the road after midnight, legally it’s a misdemeanor under state law,”

Even Uber disclosed its plan to stop giving rides in some states like Rhode Island during the travel ban. And, in addition, they noted that during the emergency weather status, surge pricing would be capped at 2.9 times the normal fare with all proceeds being donated to the American Red Cross.

But lets say a family is snowed in, travel ban in effect, and someone obtains an injury? If there’s a power outage and they need proper facilities?

O’Donnell also noted that if anyone needed to get somewhere in an emergency situation, they should call 9-1-1.

You also may be able to take advantage of the city’s resources. In the case of Juno, USA Today tells us that the Greater New York Taxi Association “offered free cab service in NYC for emergency responders trying to get to work, and disabled and elderly residents who become stranded.”


Here’s where things get tricky. Upon looking at news and other outlets reporting on the ban, you will notice a group of very specific commentaries, noting that these laws are Martial, and therefore unnecessary and inappropriate. Some colorful vocabulary like “fascist” can be found on posts like these. So we see two sides here: the government’s travel implementation in order to protect and maintain the safety of the general public, and those who disagree with and generally distrust the lawful banning of travel.

Do you think travel should be banned in cases of extreme weather conditions such as this one—or maybe even for other reasons?