The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions – such as stay-at-home orders – led to a “drastic drop” in U.S. road travel and a sharp increase in the number of people stayed at home in the spring of 2020, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
[Above photo by the Oregon Department of Transportation]
The group’s 2020 American Driving Survey found the average number of all daily personal car trips plunged 45 percent in April 2020 and 40 percent for trips by all modes of transportation combined.
Though that dip in travel moderated later in 2020, it remained well below 2019 travel levels, the Foundation said.
That report also found that daily trips for all modes of transportation fell from an average of 3.7 trips per day in 2019 to 2.2 trips in April 2020, before slightly recovering.
After abruptly decreasing in April 2020, daily trips by U.S. residents rebounded somewhat in May and June and then remained at approximately 20 to 25 percent below 2019 levels during the second half of 2020.
The group’s study also found initial COVID-19 reductions in travel occurred mostly among teens and young adults aged 16 to 24 as well as those aged 65 and older. However, as 2020 progressed, more uniform reductions in travel occurred across various age groups.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on our commute habits and patterns in the United States,” noted Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, in a statement.
“Findings based on our survey data provided some contextual information to understand better how this unfortunate event has affected the way we travel,” he said.
Other key findings from the Foundation’s report include:
- Daily car trips dropped from 3.2 pre-pandemic to 1.8 in April 2020, before rebounding slightly to 2.6 trips for the rest of 2020.
- Daily trips via all modes of travel in April 2020 by people living in urban areas dropped 42 percent versus 25 percent for their rural counterparts, before leveling off to a 20 to 30 percent reduction in both groups for the rest of the survey period.
- The proportion of people who reported making any trips by transit, taxi, or rideshare plummeted from 5.5 percent pre-pandemic to 1.7 percent in April of 2020, before leveling off at approximately 2.4 percent for the remainder of 2020.
- Work-related travel by all transportation modes dropped by 40 percent in April 2020, likely reflecting a mix of layoffs, job losses, and telecommuting.
- In subsequent months during 2020, commuting trips recovered to roughly 26 percent below pre-pandemic levels. They remained approximately 25 percent below pre-pandemic levels among workers on days when they worked, indicative of continued widespread telecommuting.
- The percentage of the population who remained in the same place all day fluctuated between 9 percent and 14 percent before the pandemic but increased to 26 percent in April 2020, before stabilizing at levels slightly above pre-pandemic levels for the remainder of 2020.
- The proportion of respondents who stayed in the same place all day quadrupled among those with the highest levels of education (from 5 percent in the second half of 2019 to 21 percent in April 2020), whereas it doubled (from 15 to 30 percent) among those who did not attend college.
- The percentage of married people staying home nearly tripled from 8 percent in 2019 to 22 percent in April 2020 versus 12 percent and 29 percent, respectively, for unmarried people. The percentages for both groups remained elevated over pre-pandemic levels for the remainder of 2020.