April 6, 2020

Recent Trends in Vehicle Miles Driven During COVID-19

by Michael Chung

With millions of Americans working from home due to office and school closures, many in the industry are wondering about vehicle miles travelled (VMT) statistics – and rightly so! VMT statistics are correlated with the health of the aftermarket industry, and this makes intuitive sense – the more miles driven, the more that maintenance, repair, and replacement of vehicles will be required.  

But what about the past few weeks, since COVID-19 has whipsawed the economy? In my local neighborhood, there is certainly less traffic, but what about the entire nation? Transportation data provider INRIX reports that overall daily national traffic volume for consumers, local fleets, and long-haul trucks was down 38% for March 21-27, relative to Feb. 22-28.   

Based on anonymous speed/location data reported in real-time from all road types for more than 100 million trips per day in the United States, INRIX found that relative to typical daily travel (Friday 2/22): 

  • Nationally, personal travel dropped by 38% to 48% during the work week. 

  • Long haul truck travel showed its first signs of decline by Thursday 3/26, down 20% on Friday 3/27. 

  • Local area commercial travel declined steadily throughout the week, reaching 16% on Friday 3/27. 

  • San Francisco and Detroit’s personal travel have both dropped by nearly two-thirds overall.  

  • Michigan had the largest statewide decrease in personal (56%) and long-haul truck (41%) travel. 

U.S.-National-Traffic-Volume Source: INRIX U.S. National Traffic Volume Synopsis: Issue #2 (March 21-27, 2020) / By Rick Schuman 

The week of 3/21-3/27 saw further reductions in vehicular travel than the week of 3/14-3/20, both relative to the week of 2/22-2/28: 

vehicle-type-table Note: figures relative to 2/22-2/28/2020. Source: INRIX U.S. National Traffic Volume Synopsis: Issue #2 (March 21-27, 2020) / By Rick Schuman

Metropolitan areas with the highest reductions for Friday 3/27 (relative to Friday 2/22) include Detroit (down 62%), San Francisco (down 54%), Seattle (down 52%), and New York City (down 48%).  Note that San Francisco was the first major city to ‘shelter-in-place’). These trends are also illustrated in the chart below:   

  traffic-congestionSource: TomTom Live Traffic Congestion March 16-21, 2020 

How long the decrease in VMT will persist is uncertain, particularly in the face of lower gas prices, the upcoming summer driving season, and aversion to flying given social distancing. What we have seen historically, though, is that aftermarket spend is sustained on as automobile owners keep their vehicles longer. This may be even more pronounced given temporary shutdowns of motor vehicle factories 

Have an industry market research question you’d like Mike to respond to? Email for an opportunity to have it answered in a future article. We’re also in the process of planning a webinar to address key data points industry experts are watching during COVID-19, what they might mean for the auto care industry and data resources we’re making available to members during these uncertain times.   

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Market Insights with Mike is a series presented by the Auto Care Association's Director of Market Intelligence, Mike Chung, that is dedicated to analyzing market-influencing trends as they happen and their potential effects on your business and the auto care industry.

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