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07/19/2021

New Research Shows Pandemic's Profound Impact on U.S. Road Travel

Daily personal car trips fell 45 percent in April 2020, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety's New American Driving Survey.
Cars traveling on a highway

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The global health crisis, and COVID-19 restrictions, kept U.S. motorists off the road and in their homes.

According to new research from AAA, the pandemic and its associated restrictions, which gripped the United States beginning in the spring of 2020, led to a dramatic change in traffic patterns.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety's New American Driving Survey (2020) examined the types of trips and the characteristics of the people who altered their driving habits. According to the research, the average number of all daily personal car trips fell 45 percent in April 2020 and 40 percent for trips by all modes of transportation combined.

The dip in travel moderated later in the year but remained below 2019 levels.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on our commute habits and patterns in the United States," said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. "Findings based on our survey data provided some contextual information to understand better how this unfortunate event has affected the way we travel."

The research 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. Daily trips rebounded in May and June, but remained at roughly 20 percent to 25 percent below 2019 levels during the second half of 2020.

In addition, survey results show that early in the pandemic, reductions in travel were most substantial among teens and young adults (ages 16 to 24) and among those ages 65 and older.

Later in 2020, reductions in travel were more uniform across various age groups, the association added.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety's New American Driving Survey results

Among the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety's New American Driving Survey's other key findings are:

  • Daily car trips as a driver or passenger fell from 3.2 pre-pandemic to 1.8 in April 2020, before bouncing back to 2.6 trips for the rest of the time period.
  • All travel by any mode: Daily trips in April 2020 by people living in urban areas dropped 42 percent vs. 25 percent for their rural counterparts, before leveling off to a 20-percent to 30-percent reduction in both groups for the rest of the survey period.
  • Travel by transit, taxi, or rideshare: The proportion of people who reported making any trips by transit, taxi, or rideshare decreased from 5.5 percent pre-pandemic to 1.7 percent in April 2020, before leveling off at approximately 2.4 percent for the remainder of the year.
  • Commuter travel: Work-related travel by all transportation modes dropped by 40 percent in April 2020. Commuting trips made by workers on days when they worked decreased by approximately 22 percent relative to pre-pandemic levels as well. In the following months, commuting trips returned to approximately 26 percent below pre-pandemic levels among the population as a whole. Commuting remained approximately 25 percent below pre-pandemic levels among workers on days when they worked. 
  • Staying at home: 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. It stabilized at levels slightly higher than those before the pandemic for the remainder of the year. 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 percent to 30 percent) among those who did not attend college.
  • Marital status: The percentage of married people staying home nearly tripled from 8 percent in 2019 to 22 percent in April 2020 vs. 12 percent and 29 percent for unmarried people. The numbers for both groups remained elevated over pre-pandemic levels for the remainder of the year.