Over the last few months, we have covered how COVID-19 and social restrictions across the country have impacted traffic volumes and driving behavior. In March, we knew that changes would come fast. But, back then, we truly had no idea how shutdowns would affect our everyday lives in the long-term. Thus, we took a deeper look into our telematics data to share with you what driving behavior trends have looked like over the past six months.

Immediate impacts of nationwide shutdowns were obvious. Data in mid-March as compared to February showed that fewer drivers were on the roads, with fewer trips and fewer miles driven. As we moved into May, some states began lifting the more stringent restrictions and drivers were starting to take to the roads again. We looked at our data again, this time with a focus on driving behaviors on empty roads. Trends we shared with you showed that, although traffic volumes were still down, risk was not, with speeding and aggressive driving escalating.

The data we previously shared compared volume and behaviors during the shutdowns to February of this year. For this article, we compare 2020 driving to the same time period in 2019, comparing actual driving with seasonal adjusted expectations. Let’s take a trip down memory lane…

What a difference a year – and a pandemic – makes

We typically do similar things day in and day out. Until we were relocated to home offices, most of us probably followed the same driving schedule that revolved around daily commutes. Year over year, we see similar patterns of driving for each day of the week and even each week of the year. For example, drivers tend to drive more on Friday and Saturdays than the rest of the week and more in the summers than in winter. Therefore, we see the impact best by comparing this year’s driving to the same time period (and same days of the week) as last year.

Average mileage driven was fairly consistent in the first two and a half months of 2019 and 2020; this can be seen in the chart below, where the ratio of 2020/2019 mileage is plus or minus 100%.

The numbers change in mid-March 2020, of course, with a sharp decrease in driving. After bottoming out in early April and hovering around 60% for a month, mileage began a steady increase over the following weeks and, by the end of June, shows only a small decrease from the same time in 2019. We have now returned to around 85% of expected mileage.

2020/2019 Ratio Rolling 7-Day Average Mileage takes mileage driven from three days before to three days after the date shown and compares it to three days before to three days after the same day of week in the previous year.

We were curious to see how driving differed by day of week. During the early days of the shutdown, weekend driving dropped to lower levels than weekday driving – down to 52% of 2019 mileage for the first weekend of April. In late April, weekend mileage started to rebound at a faster rate than weekday mileage. In the beginning of the pandemic, it is likely that drivers were heeding warnings to stay inside and avoid unnecessary travel. Weekday travel is more likely essential while weekend travel more likely to be for leisure and socialization. As lockdown fatigue wore on, and more restrictions were lifted, drivers began to venture out for trips to the park or visit family, especially Mom.

The time of day drivers who were out and about seem to follow the same plot. Non-essential and recreational driving times – weekday evenings from 8pm-midnight and weekend nights from midnight-5am –dropped the most. This isn’t surprising as most restaurants and bars were forced to close. Essential driving times, including when stores and businesses are open, between the hours or 10am-8pm on weekdays and weekends dipped least and are now back to 90% of 2019 mileage.

A sense of normalcy in un-normal times

As the saying goes, “books are linear, life is not.” It’s been said often that we are living and working in very different times. Looking at telematics data from only last year, we could never have imagined the stark contrast in how we go about our daily and weekly travel on the roads. Even just a few months ago, many of us may have thought that the drastic drop in daily mileage would be with us for a long time. As we have seen from the data, however, drivers are venturing out yet again.  

Shutdowns and phased re-openings are seemingly fluid as we react to changing circumstances. With schools in many states planning to begin their fall terms and more offices opening, driving trends are sure to reflect the rapid changes in our daily lives. We will continue to monitor trends and share data with you to help you navigate these uncertain times.