Research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s latest American Driving Survey offers insightful information on how much Americans drove during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. According to survey responses, drivers returned to the road in a big way in 2021, after a dramatic decrease in travel in 2020. Survey data also reveals that younger drivers and people whose highest level of education is high school spent the most time driving and reported the most miles driven during this time period.
Before the pandemic, people with higher levels of education were the ones who typically drove longer and farther. The shift to remote work during COVID changed that, as many college-educated employees were able to work from home. In contrast, younger adults and people with lower levels of education are less likely to have the option to work remotely.
At the same time, we’re seeing a rise in the number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes. According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), both the traffic fatality rate (deaths per mile driven) and total traffic fatalities increased halfway through 2020, and that increase appears to have been sustained throughout 2021, the deadliest year on the roads since 2005. NHTSA’s data also shows teenagers and young adults accounted for the vast majority of the increase in traffic fatalities in 2020, relative to 2019.
Previous research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety showed younger drivers generally have higher crash rates that resulted in injuries and deaths. Other studies that looked at socioeconomic disparities found people with lower levels of education and those who live in lower-income communities are more likely to die in crashes. Data for this American Driving Survey shows these are the groups spending the most time behind the wheel during the pandemic.
“These findings suggest our ‘go-to’ fixes for crash and injury prevention won’t work like they used to,” said AAA traffic safety advocacy and research director Jake Nelson. “Road authorities will need to customize solutions for people overrepresented in these crashes in order to truly turn the tide on traffic deaths in the U.S.”
AAA recommends tailoring solutions to traffic safety challenges by considering the groups most impacted. It is also critical to employ a holistic approach to address traffic safety issues by considering all aspects of a transportation system – road infrastructure, vehicles, and users.
About the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
Now celebrating its 75th anniversary, the Foundation for Traffic Safety was established in 1947 by AAA. The Foundation is a nonprofit, publicly funded, 501(c)(3) charitable research and educational organization. The AAA Foundation’s mission is to prevent traffic deaths and injuries by researching their causes and by educating the public about strategies to prevent crashes and reduce injuries when they do occur. This research develops educational materials for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and other road users.