The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently released research from its “New American Driving Survey” aiming to quantify month-to-month changes in average daily travel from July 2019 through December 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic, the associated policy interventions such as stay-at-home orders, and the associated economic recession all had profound influences on how much Americans traveled and how they traveled in 2020.
After data from sources such as vehicle counts and cell phone records were used to estimate the overall magnitude of the change in travel at the national and state levels, the study found that the mean daily number of trips taken by U.S. residents abruptly decreased by approximately 40% in April 2020 relative to the mean daily number of trips in July-December 2019 (before the pandemic), rebounded slightly in May and June, and then leveled off for the remainder of 2020 at roughly 20 to 25% below the mean daily number of trips during the second half of 2019.
The current analysis provides additional context with respect to the types of trips and the characteristics of people traveling (and not traveling) as summarized below:
- Early in the pandemic, reductions in travel were greatest among teens and young adults (ages 16–24) and among those ages 65 and older, whereas beyond the initial months of the pandemic, sustained reductions in travel were more uniform across the age spectrum.
- Reductions in travel were much larger among those with higher levels of education, especially early in the pandemic, likely due to this group’s greater opportunity to work from home.
- Reductions in work-related travel were larger than reductions in non-work-related travel, both among the population as a whole and specifically among workers on days when they worked.
- Reduction in daily travel during the pandemic has been more pronounced for modes of transportation that involve shared travel, including public transportation (bus or rail) as well as trips by taxi or rideshare vehicles (e.g., Lyft, Uber or similar).
- The percentage of the population who stayed in the same place all day fluctuated between 9% and 14% before the pandemic, but increased to 16% in March and 26% in April 2020.
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