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

Arity · April 29, 2020 · 4 min read
The following article summarizes COVID-19: Insights on the Impact to Transportation, a webinar Arity hosted on April 15, 2020.

To try to help others make sense of the current pandemic’s impact on driving, Arity is providing complimentary access, for a limited time, to key insights on transportation and driving behavior changes. We hope this information helps others understand how this public health crisis has impacted the way people travel.

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 much its residents are driving. States with the most significant drops in daily driving also have the most COVID-19 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 variances in the degree of reduction across states and communities, total miles traveled has decreased country-wide. On an individual level, however, not every driver has reduced his or her driving.

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?

In terms of risk, for drivers who are still on the road, the risk of an accident is about the same as last year at the same time. These drivers have changed certain behaviors, though:

  • 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.

These behavior changes are even more evident on popular roads, like freeways. In our post-webinar report, we have detailed illustrations of these behavior changes, as well as additional insights into how people are driving during this time.

Stay Up to Date on the Impact of COVID-19 on Transportation

There are still many unknowns about how driving trends will continue to change, as well as when, and to what extent, they will return to “normal.” As of the date of this blog post, our data are starting to show an uptick in total miles driven countrywide, among other changing trends. Stay tuned for additional data reports and blog posts as we continue to monitor these driving changes and look at how the US starts its return to a new ‘normal’.

In the meantime, check out our first COVID-19 data report here 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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