Data published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Highway Administration show that traffic levels in the US have significant decreased over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. FHA data show specifically that driving has decreased “by 40% in April soon after the pandemic emerged” compared to the same period in 2019, according to Voice of America News. As drivers returned to the road, the total kilometers driven was only down 11% in July 2020 compared to July 2019. Meanwhile NHTSA data shows that during the second quarter of 2020, traffic volume fell 16% compared to the first six months of 2019.
According to VOA News, experts suggest these trends are beneficial for the environment. One researcher at the Natural Resources Defense Council said that the increase in cycling and other non-driving outdoor activities reduces their carbon footprints. The decrease in cars led to healthier air in cities across the country, including Los Angeles, famous for its smoggy skies. Still, the researcher suspects that as drivers return to the road, “cleaner air won’t last long.”
The decrease in driving reflects the dire state of affairs in the US, according to VOA News, which notes that it is “also the result of widespread unemployment, shuttered businesses, and other devastating economic consequences.” The report describes a negative feedback loop in which shuttered businesses reduce driving, which in turn harms other businesses. “Restaurants, hotels and other establishments are being impacted by people’s driving habits,” said a researcher at the Brookings Institution. Another researcher at the same organization said that “the hotel industry is really struggling,” as fewer Americans take vacations or travel for work. Meanwhile,
On the other hand, VOA News reports, “driving has picked up en route to destinations such as national parks and beaches.” Experts suggest this is likely because travelers feel safer in locations where it’s easier for them to practice social distancing. gas refineries “have been running at very reduced capacity rates,” according to a policy expert at the Chamber of Commerce. The reason for this, he suggests, is that reduced traffic levels means fewer drivers filling up their tanks at gas stations. More information on these trends is available via Voice of America News.