Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

This is how much driving has declined during COVID-19

Stay-at-home orders, rampant unemployment, and shuttered businesses and public spaces have nearly obliterated car usage.

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No one in Los Angeles would have believed a cross-town trip from downtown to the beach at rush hour could be completed in under an hour, much less 15 breezy minutes. And then the world dropped off a cliff.

Anecdotally, it's obvious we're driving a lot less. Between lost jobs, shuttered businesses, closed public spaces, and ongoing stay-at-home orders, car-obsessed Americans just aren't driving that much. The results leave plenty to be grateful for: Less pollution, easier transits for essential travel, rock bottom gas prices. To say nothing of the psychological benefits of scrapping the commute.

But how much has driving really dropped off? 

A new survey of motorists published by carinsurance.org puts some hard numbers to the changes in American driving habits. The results point to the unprecedented scope of the decline in car usage.

"We asked over 1,000 Americans about how coronavirus impacted their driving habits," says Kayla Brennan working on behalf of carinsurance.org. "In addition to driving less, we found that nearly 40% of respondents had planned on buying or leasing a car this Spring. Seventy-one percent have put those plans on hold. Twenty-seven perecent say they are actually less likely to buy or lease a car now."

That has serious consequences for the auto industry, as well as related industries like ride sharing and oil & gas. It could also have long term consequences on taxes collected by the federal government via gasoline sales to keep up highways and other road infrastructure.

On average, prior to the pandemic, survey respondents spent nearly six hours per week commuting by car, just short of an hour a day. Not bad by Los Angeles standards, but a truly horrible way to spend six hours each week, to say nothing of a tremendous drain on resources. 

Since the lockdowns went into effect, drivers have been on the road an average of just six minutes each day, or 42 minutes per week. A full 27% of respondents report they have stopped driving their cars altogether.

In one fascinating sign of the times, the driving people have been doing may actually have more to do with getting out of the house than running errands. For the 73% who chose to continue driving during the pandemic, more than half of drivers said that when they did drive, they just got in their cars and drove around aimlessly.

The full survey, which breaks down the numbers in a number of fascinating ways, is available here. If you do drive, don't go too fast. Here in LA, cops have started giving speeding tickets a vengeance.