In 2021, new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s New American Driving Survey revealed shifts in driving, traveling, and commuting patterns in the United States. The statistics gathered between July 2019 and December 2020 cannot be analyzed without consideration of COVID-19’s unignorable impact on the numbers—numbers showing marked differences from previous years’ findings.
While there have been massive overall reductions in the number of vehicles making daily trips, the rate of collision and fatality has not reflected that reality. In fact, the opposite has been seen. Travel has decreased, yet accident fatality has increased. This article will examine the month-by-month changes as the pandemic and its associated impact spread throughout the country, how varying types of travel and demographic groups were affected, and the statistics of the increased accident rates.
In the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report, it was noted that travel was affected in varying ways over the period of investigation. This time period covered multiple stages of the U.S. emergence of the pandemic, the resulting stay-at-home and quarantine policies, and the subsequent economic changes that affected millions of Americans. The lifestyle transitions accompanying these monumental events were evident in many areas of our cultural behavior. And transportation was certainly one of the most obviously altered areas.
The report offered month-by-month breakdowns of travel behaviors between the middle of 2019 and the end of 2020. The following notable facts emerged:
- The average number of daily trips for all forms of travel stayed consistent with previous years until March 2020, when the rates dropped sharply.
- March and April of 2020 saw the lowest numbers of the year, dropping from a 2019 average of 3.7 trips per day to an average of 2.2 trips per day— an approximate 40% decrease compared to the previous year’s mean.
- By October of 2020, daily trips had gradually returned to a little less than the previous norm, at 3.3 trips per day.
- During November and December of 2020, travel began to decrease again, with both months maintaining an average of between 2.7 and 2.8 trips per day.
How Different Types of Vehicle Travel Were Impacted
As was seen, the average number of daily trips stayed relatively consistent until the abrupt drop of March 2020. But different behaviors were observed when it came to specific modes and purposes of transportation, such as personal car travel, public transportation, and work-related commuting.
- The average number of daily personal car trips fell from 3.2 pre-pandemic to 1.8 in April 2020.
- The use of shared travel (including public transportation, taxi, and rideshare travel) dropped more sharply than personal vehicle use—from 5.5% of the population pre-pandemic to 1.7% in April of 2020.
- Work-related travel decreased more significantly than non-work-related travel.
Travel Behaviors by Demographic
Prior to the pandemic, roughly 9% and 14% of the overall population stayed in the same place all day. This percentage increased to 16% in March and 26% in April 2020. A further analysis of groups based on demographic qualities like age, level of education, and area of residence indicated that the pandemic affected different populations’ travel patterns in varying ways. The following facts emerged from the AAA traffic study:
- In the early months, the number of daily trips taken by urban dwellers dropped by 42%, while daily trips taken by those living in rural areas was reduced by only 25%. Over time, the numbers became more homogenous at a 20%-30% reduction for both groups.
- Young adults (16-24) and older adults (65 and over) initially reduced travel more substantially than other groups in the early months of the pandemic. Over time, the sustained travel reductions flattened across all age groups.
- The percentage of married people who stayed home during the day increased from 8% in 2019 to 22% in April 2020. For unmarried people, the increase was less substantial—from 12% to 29%.
- The percentage of people who stayed in the same place all day quadrupled among those with the highest levels of education, but doubled among those who did not attend college.
- Individuals with higher levels of education were more likely to reduce travel, especially early in the pandemic. This can likely be attributed to the work from home opportunities afforded this group of people.
- People who began working from home at the pandemic’s onset were more likely to continue working from home. Continuing into 2021, commuting remained consistently about 25% below pre-pandemic levels.
Increased Accident Rates
Despite the decreased number of vehicles on the road, studies from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently showed that approximately 38,680 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2020. This was the highest number of fatalities since 2007, and a 7.2% increase over 2019. Similarly, research by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) determined that total vehicle miles traveled in 2020 decreased by about 430.2 billion miles (a 13.2% decrease), yet fatalities continued to increase at a disproportionate rate.
NHTSA research suggests that throughout the pandemic, driving behaviors became more violent and reckless. Although fewer people traveled by car on a daily basis, those who did operate vehicles engaged in risky activities in higher numbers. Unsafe behaviors observed through research include speeding and driving under the influence, and more people involved in crashes were not wearing seat belts. Average driving speeds also increased, with higher prevalence of extreme speeding.
Sadly, our Chicago law firm has seen too many incidents of reckless driving-caused accidents since the beginning of the pandemic. Safe, sober, attentive, and defensive driving that obeys traffic rules is the best way to prevent accidents. If you have been injured through the fault of another driver, contact a car accident lawyer to discuss your case.
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