During the COVID-19 pandemic people are traveling less, but that’s not the whole story

The following article summarizes COVID-19: Insights on the Impact to Transportation, a webinar Arity hosted on April 15, 2020.

It comes as no surprise that people are not traveling as often during the pandemic — if they are at all. But it turns out that’s not the whole story.

People are taking fewer trips in March and early April

Somewhat surprisingly, people started staying home (or not driving) two weeks before any states issued shelter-in-place orders or advisories. In California and New York, for example, daily driving trips dropped 40%** in the weeks before those states issued shelter-in-place orders and dropped even further to 70% following the issuance of such orders.  These decreases are relative to the same period in 2019, combined with additional forecasting to capture seasonal effects on driving.

We have also seen an inverse correlation between how severely a state has been impacted by COVID-19, and how frequently its residents are driving. States with the most significant decrease in pandemic travel also have the most COVID cases.

Based on our latest data, as of April 29, 2020, total miles traveled is down 49% across all states, with states following a similar curve downward in total miles traveled. The magnitude of the downward curve is not the same everywhere, though. In some states, miles traveled are down as little as 23%, while in other states, miles traveled are down as much as 75%. Similarly, the reduction in miles driven is not the same across communities. The reduction is greater in population-dense communities than in less populated or rural communities.

Despite variance in pandemic travel numbers across communities and states, total miles traveled has decreased across the country. But on an individual level, not every driver has limited their travel.

Driving has increased for some people

While, on average, people are driving less, not everyone is average. Indeed, though most drivers have reduced their driving, some have not, or are driving even more than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Compared to the last week in February 2020, our most recent data show that about 12% of drivers increased their number of weekly trips and drove 19% farther during those trips.

The cause of the increase in driving for some drivers is unclear. Is it small business employees making deliveries in their personal cars? Or is it people who have lost their jobs and have taken on gig delivery jobs? Or is it due to the increase in demand for deliveries from current delivery drivers?

Are people driving the same as they were before the pandemic?

For drivers still on the road, the risk of an accident is about the same as last year at the same time. But some driving habits have changed:

  • Phone usage while driving is down
  • Harsh acceleration is down nearly 10%
  • Weekend and weekday driving behavior is now largely the same where previously there was a significant difference between weekday and weekend driving behavior.

This driver behavior change is even more evident on popular roads, like freeways. Our post-webinar report features detailed illustrations of these behavior changes and additional insights into how people are driving during the pandemic.

Stay up to date on the impact of COVID-19 on transportation

There remains uncertainty about how driving habits will continue to change and when they’ll return to “normal.” As of the end of April, our data shows an uptick in total numbers driven country wide, among other new trends. Stay tuned for additional data reports and blog posts as we monitor changing driving habits and examine how travel in the US evolves.

In the meantime, check out our COVID-19 webinar to learn more about the data reviewed in this article. And please reach out if you have specific needs to help make data-driven decisions for your business, we’d love to hear from you.

** To develop these insights, Arity leveraged data based on representative samplings from Arity’s multi-source dataset. That dataset includes anonymized and aggregated driving behavior data from insurance and non-insurance sources and is not solely reflective of any particular industry or source. The data are collected from mobile app and on-board device methods

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Arity is a mobility data and analytics company. We provide data-driven solutions to companies invested in transportation, enabling them to deliver mobility services that are smarter, safer, and more economical.