Daily Trips Dropped 40% at the Height of the Pandemic

But there were nearly 39,000 traffic crash fatalities in 2020, the most since 2007

BOISE – The COVID-19 pandemic and associated stay-at-home orders had a profound effect on driving behavior.  According to AAA, the average number of daily trips taken by Americans dropped by 40% in April 2020 when compared to pre-pandemic levels, before leveling off to a 25% reduction for the remainder of last year.

For AAA’s new American Driving Survey, U.S. residents were asked about their daily driving habits before and during the pandemic, with the results measured along several key demographics.

Among the highlights of AAA’s latest research:

  • From July to December 2019, respondents reported making an average of nearly four trips per day. That number dropped to three in March of 2020, and two in April of last year.
  • Early in the pandemic, large decreases in travel were observed among all age groups, but on a percentage basis, adults aged 65 and older made an average of 53% fewer trips per day in April 2020 than they did in the latter half of 2019.
  • Respondents with higher levels of education decreased their travel during the pandemic to a greater degree than those with lower levels of education.

“All of the work that’s been taking place during the pandemic has been critically important to our quality of life,” says AAA Idaho spokesman Matthew Conde.  “Depending on the nature of the work being performed, some tasks have been more site-dependent, while others could be performed remotely, impacting the number of trips that people completed throughout the day.”

  • During the height of the pandemic, people living in metropolitan areas reduced their travel from nearly four trips per day to just over two per day – a 42% reduction – compared with a 25% reduction by people in non-metro areas, where there were likely fewer options for food and grocery deliveries to their homes and other services. However, by the latter half of 2020, residents in both metro and non-metro areas leveled off their travel to a 20%-30% dip from the second half of 2019.
  • Reductions in daily trips during the pandemic were more pronounced for shared modes of travel, including public transportation and ridesharing or ride-hailing services. The proportion of the population who used these modes of travel fell from a daily average of 5.5% in the second half of 2019 to 1.7% in April of 2020 and an average of 2.4% for the remainder of the year.
  • In the months before the pandemic, the percentage of people who stayed in the same place fluctuated from 9%-14% on a given day but jumped to 26% in April 2020.

“Survey respondents aged 65 years and older were the most likely to stay home all day during the peak of the pandemic, but the biggest increase happened among younger age groups,” Conde said.  “Clearly, with travel restrictions and a lot of uncertainty in the mix, people had to do the best they could with an unprecedented situation.”

  • Men were more likely than women to stay in the same place in March 2020, but in the following months, the proportion of women who stayed in the same place all day exceeded that of men.
  • The biggest increase in people staying at home all day occurred among married respondents.
  • Reductions in work-related travel were larger than reductions in non-work-related travel.

AAA is concerned about the increase in deaths on U.S. roads during the pandemic.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 39,000 people died in traffic crashes in 2020, a 7% increase from 2019, and the most people killed on American roads since 2007.

Experts point to a few potential contributing factors, such as increased speeds made possible by reduced congestion, reduced law enforcement due to precautions surrounding personal contact, and increased use of impairing substances during the pandemic.

“There’s no doubt that we need to turn the tide, but the roads are only going to get busier, so it needs to happen now,” Conde said.  “We ask everyone to please renew their focus on safe driving.”