Strange AAA Study: Less Traffic, More Accidents. Driving During the Pandemic

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A recent study by the AAA, or American Automobile Association, investigated how much American driving habits changed during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. As pandemic restrictions took place in early 2020, stay-at-home orders and the closing of non-essential business forced drivers to stay at home off the roads. The average number of trips for all transportation dropped 40% in April of 2020.

The AAA’s 2020 New American Driving Survey also found that daily personal car drips dropped a whopping 45%. The second half of 2020 saw slight increases in all transportation numbers, but they still remained lower than the 2019 numbers.

“This data demonstrates what a profound impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on our commute habits and patterns in the United States.”

Adrienne Woodland, AAA spokesperson.

Not only did personal trips see a dramatic reduction, but the use of transit, taxi, and ride share services greatly decreased in April 2020. Percentages show that 5.5% of people reported using these services pre-pandemic, but after only 1.7% reported use.

AAA: More Accidents from Driving Less

Although the study found that less people were on the roads and driving, astonishingly the rate of traffic deaths spiked during the 2020 pandemic.

“It’s counter intuitive to see the rate of traffic deaths spike when so many of us were driving less often. As the U.S. climbs out of the COVID-19 pandemic, highway safety officials will need to double down on curbing speeding, substance-impaired driving, and failure to buckle up.”

Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy
AAA’s 2020 New American Driving Survey
Even though overall commercial and personal automotive traffic was down in 2020, the number of traffic accidents and deaths spiked during the pandemic.

AAA: Strange Results and Key Findings

The conclusions from the investigation were so strange that the AAA even had to place a footnote on their study, as the findings were so outside their normal methodology and expected results:

It is noteworthy that the results included in this report should not be compared with those reported in the previous publications, as the survey methodologies in previous years were significantly different from those reported herein. Additionally, the global pandemic starting in early 2020 clearly had a major impact on driving patterns, thus the study period from July 2019 through June 2020 is fundamentally unlike the same period in any prior year with respect to travel.

The following summarizes analysis results from data collected between July 1, 2019
and June 30, 2020:

  • About 9-in-10 U.S. residents ages 16 or older drove at least occasionally and made an average of 2.5 driving trips daily during 2019–2020.
  • They spent approximately 59 minutes a day driving and drove, on average, nearly 30 miles daily.
  • Driving patterns varied by socio-demographic factors:
    • Middle-aged drivers made more trips, spent more time driving, and drove more miles than teens or older drivers.
    • Men drove more often, more time, and more miles than women.
    • The average daily number of trips, minutes, and miles were higher for married people than for the widowed.
    • Drivers who lived in non-metropolitan areas made more trips, spent more time driving, and drove more miles than those who lived in metropolitan areas.
  • The number of drivers ages 16 or older in the United States was estimated at 246.3 million between 2019 and 2020, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
    • It was estimated that they made nearly 225 billion trips, spent about 89 billion hours driving, and drove almost 3 trillion miles.

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