Memorial Day weekend, the typical start of the U.S. summer driving season, has come and gone. Data on just how much driving Americans did is trickling in, and it’s a bit noisy. Apple mobility trends show searches for directions down only 4% from baseline, but gasoline consumption was 25% to 35% off the numbers from a year earlier. Not only are we far from the old normal in road transport, it seems we’re still quite far from establishing what the new normal will be.
There’s another set of recent data, though, with a positive trend for U.S. driving: annual road traffic fatalities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 36,120 people died in motor vehicle crashes last year, down 1.2% from 2018, making it the third straight year of declining U.S. traffic fatalities.
Declining fatalities occurred as U.S. vehicle miles traveled reached an all-time high. Americans drove more than 3.2 trillion miles last year, about 8% more than 12 years earlier.
The coronavirus pandemic, needless to say, could change these patterns up significantly. Miles driven for 2020 will almost certainly be less than last year, though just how much less is highly contingent on the state of the pandemic in coming months. With many highways now largely deserted, there’s also been a surge in high-speed driving, which has led to an uptick in fatalities. As a Minnesota state transport official said, “We have had half the traffic and twice as many fatalities” — hardly a desirable outcome from shutdowns.