There are a lot fewer cars on the road now, though the decrease may not be quite as much as you’d think.
Traffic around the country has plummeted since governments began enacting stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus outbreak, but data from vehicle navigation systems and other monitors shows many of us are still out of our homes and on the road.
Nationwide, traffic analytics firms say, daily traffic remains at about 60% of normal levels, even as the vast majority of Americans tell pollsters they’re staying home more.
In California, where a stay-at-home order took effect March 19, daily trips statewide remain at 58% of normal levels, according to Wejo, a British company that collects data from sensors in some passenger vehicles.
On Wednesday – two days after the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland enacted stay-at-home orders – daily car trips in the region remained at 51% of normal in D.C., 53% in Maryland and 59% in Virginia, according to Wejo, which does not include trucks or other commercial vehicles.
The figures are similar in parts of the country at the forefront of the U.S. covid-19 outbreak and where people have been under shelter-in-place orders longer.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted March 22-25 found that 91% of Americans reported staying home as much as possible due to the coronavirus outbreak, and nearly 9 in 10 said they had stopped going to restaurants and bars.
But plenty of Americans are still on the road, even if they have curtailed their travel.
Some of the remaining traffic, experts say, stems from motorists heading to and from the many worksites that have been deemed “essential”: health-care facilities, supermarkets and liquor stores, construction sites, banks, dry cleaners, hardware stores, pet stores, government facilities, and auto and bicycle repair shops, among others. The Washington region’s orders also exempt plumbers, electricians and others needed for home repairs.
Some workers who previously might have taken mass transit or carpooled might now be driving alone in an attempt to distance themselves from others, experts say. Public transportation service hours also have been curtailed dramatically.
And though many of us have greatly reduced our travel, we usually can’t eliminate it. Activities deemed essential to carrying on daily life include fetching food, going to a doctor’s appointment or picking up a prescription. In The Post-ABC News poll, 6 in 10 people said they had stocked up on food and household supplies.
And if you want to hit the road to avoid climbing the walls? Washington-area officials say it’s OK to drive for “leisure” or relaxation – a pastime not typically associated with the region’s roads.
It turns out that a lot of driving is not just for going to and from work, but for things like errands and shopping, which people are still doing albeit not as often. And of course there are a lot of people who still have to go to work, for those essential services. My team was ordered to start working from home on March 9, and I’ve barely been on the road since then. I don’t miss it at all. It has been a good opportunity to give my elder daughter some road experience with her learner’s permit, since we’re much less likely to encounter nasty conditions. This was a national story from the Washington Post, so there was no Texas-specific information in it, but an earlier Chron story suggests we’ve seen the same effect here, so much so that conditions have been great for road construction projects. It wouldn’t surprise me if one result of all this is more people working from home for the long term, which in turn would mean a permanent dip in traffic. We can all hope.