As Summer Begins, COVID-19 Has Slowed Driving Levels Overall. But People in Some Areas Are Returning to the Road.

As Summer Begins, COVID-19 Has Slowed Driving Levels Overall. But People in Some Areas Are Returning to the Road.

Denser states and cities and counties greatly affected by COVID-19 still have lower driving levels than in March. Other parts of the country have returned to driving normalcy.

Driving levels across the country were 5% lower at the beginning of June than they were in early March, before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted nationwide lockdowns. But changes in behavior have not been uniform.

Key findings:

Driving has rebounded more in states with lower population densities.

Within individual states, the areas with the biggest increases in driving tend to be those that offer outdoor activities. In other words, the pandemic hasn't put a full stop to typical spring and summer leisure activity.

In less-dense states, such as Wyoming and Montana, driving levels are 1.5 times higher compared to prepandemic days. In bigger and more densely populated states, including California, Florida and New York, driving levels are still 15% lower as summer begins.

And there's plenty of variability in behavior within states. For example, a surge in driving within several small cities in California belies the large dip in driving among its larger cities. At the county level, data indicates Americans are starting their vacations. Many of the counties with the biggest surges in driving are known for prominent beaches and parks.

States with biggest increases and decreases in driving behavior

For the country as a whole, driving levels in early June are 5% lower than they were in early March. But changes in driving behavior vary across the U.S. In fact, although driving activity is below March levels in 21 states, a majority of states have seen a spike in driving.

The state with the biggest jump in driving is Wyoming. Hawaii is the state with the lowest level of driving activity compared to March.

  • Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Idaho and Alaska have seen the biggest rebound in driving activity. Driving is 30% to 65% higher than it was in March.
  • Hawaii, California, Florida, New York, Arizona and Nevada are the states with the lowest June driving activity compared to March levels. Hawaii driving levels could be impacted by the need for tourists to access the state by plane, while California, Florida and New York are both populous and densely populated. Meanwhile, Nevada's tourist population largely congregates indoors.

Cities with biggest increases in driving behavior compared to the rest of their state

When it is available, driving level data show that some cities are major outliers within their own states, with a rebound in driving at least 15% higher compared to the rest of their state.

California data shows how driving behavior can vary greatly within a large state. Driving in major cities has remained subdued, while midsized cities have seen a bump in driving from March levels. In fact, of the 10 cities nationwide that have seen the biggest jumps in driving compared to the rest of their state, California is home to seven of them.

The other cities we found as major outliers are in Hawaii, Virginia, Florida and New York.

The Apple Mobility Trends Report has driving data for 112 cities, 21 of which are in California.

Driving activity in California cities: A mixed bag

Overall, driving in California in early June is 20% lower than it was in early March. But that average hides some extreme examples within the state.

Some of the biggest cities in the state — Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego — have had even bigger drops in driving compared to their March levels. But midsized cities, such as Modesto, Stockton, Bakersfield and Antioch, have actually seen their driving levels increase.

Other U.S. cities where driving has rebounded

California dominates the list of cities where driving levels have rebounded far above the state average. But there are five other cities — within three states — where driving levels are 15% higher than the rest of the state.

  • Waipahu, Hawaii: Hawaiians are driving 49% less in June compared to March, but in Waipahu it's only 20% lower, the biggest differential outside of California.
  • Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Virginia: Driving levels in Virginia are barely down (-2%) from March. But driving in coastal Virginia Beach (+17%) and Norfolk (+14%) is way up.
  • Jacksonville, Florida: Driving in Florida is 18% lower than it was in March, making it one of the states most affected by the crisis. But driving in Jacksonville is only down 2%, meaning it's much more active than the state as a whole.
  • Rochester, New York: Like Florida, the state of New York is seeing driving levels 18% lower than March. But behavior in Rochester is similar to Jacksonville. Its driving levels are only 2% lower than in March.

Counties with biggest changes in driving behavior compared to the rest of their state

Analyzing driving behavior in highly populated counties, we found that counties with the biggest spike in driving tended to be vacation destinations. Data cannot be compared to last year, but activity in these areas shows that Americans still have an appetite for vacations during the pandemic.

On the other hand, the most prominent counties in which driving behavior hasn't rebounded are pandemic hot spots and/or big cities. These counties contain New York City, New Orleans, Nashville and Boston.

Counties where driving has rebounded the most

The counties with the biggest return to driving tend to be near vacation spots. The rebound in driving activity in June for the following counties was 33% to 114% higher than the rest of its state.

CountyAttractionRebound in driving*
Park County, WyomingYellowstone National Park+114%
Kenai Peninsula Borough, AlaskaKatmai National Park and Preserve+85%
Sussex County, DelawareRehoboth Beach+43%
Pennington County, South DakotaMount Rushmore+43%
Horry County, South CarolinaMyrtle Beach+39%
Ocean County, New JerseyJersey Shore+33%
*Numbers represent how big the county's driving activity recovery was compared to the state recovery.

Prominent counties where driving has fallen the most

Of the country's highly populated counties, there are four notable counties in which driving has decelerated greatly, even in comparison to the rest of the state. Unsurprisingly, these counties tend to contain dense cities. The county with the single biggest decline compared to the rest of its state is New York County, the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States.

CountyDecline in driving activity (county)Change in driving activity (state)Difference
New York County, New York-65%-18%-47%
Orleans Parish, Louisiana-37%-4%-34%
Davidson County, Tennessee-25%+5%-30%
Suffolk County, Massachusetts-30%-9%-21%

Methodology

Data was drawn from the Apple Maps Mobility Trends Report. For cities and counties, changes in driving behavior were compared to the rest of the state to measure how the change differed from local behavior. Only counties with more than 5% of a state's population were included in the analysis.

When comparing driving levels in early March to early June, we compared the week of March 5–11 to the week of May 28–June 3. The first large week-on-week drop in driving activity for the country as a whole began March 12.

Mark is a Senior Research Analyst for ValuePenguin focusing on the insurance industry, primarily auto insurance. He previously worked in financial risk management at State Street Corporation.

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