US Vehicle Travel Fell 8.6 Percent in September, Smallest Decline of Pandemic

November 15, 2020 Updated: November 16, 2020

U.S. motorists drove 8.6 percent fewer miles in September, marking the smallest monthly decline since the coronavirus pandemic forced millions of Americans to begin working from home in March.

The Federal Highway Administration on Nov. 13 said road travel fell by 23.4 billion vehicle miles in September, but it was up 2.8 percent over August and the first time that travel fell by less than 10 percent since February. In the first nine months of 2020, Americans have driven 355.5 billion miles, down 14.5 percent, the lowest number in that period since 2000.

Rural travel fell by about 5 percent in September, while urban traffic is down about 10 percent.

In contrast, travel fell by 39.8 percent in April amid state-at-home orders with Connecticut, Hawaii, and New Jersey reporting around 50 percent drops that month.

Volkswagen Group of America Chief Executive Scott Keogh said at a Reuters Events conference on Nov. 13 the number of first-time U.S. car buyers had grown during the pandemic, up from a historic 3-4 percent average to about 11 percent.

“It’s clearly a signal that people have some doubts in public transportation, potentially some doubts in ride-share,” Keogh said.

California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols told Reuters on Nov. 12 that “driving is back up again, way ahead of opening of a lot of stores or offices.”

“The need and the desire that people have to be able to get out of their houses or their apartments and go someplace appears to one of the kind of basic human drives,” Nichols said.

Mass transit demand has been devastated in large part because of people’s fears of the coronavirus, she added.

“It’s actually leading to an increase in sales of old cars for people who might have taken a bus before.”

By David Shepardson