The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed American driving patterns. And with vaccinations now widespread, we’re expecting another upheaval in traffic patterns as we return to our “normal” lives after a year in varying states of quarantine.
But will the new normal traffic patterns match the old ones? Here’s how the COVID vaccination guidelines are expected to change city traffic.
How the COVID-19 Outbreak Changed Traffic
In March of 2020, state governors started signing stay-at-home orders, bringing public life to a grinding halt. People were no longer able to go shopping (aside from the essentials), dine out at restaurants, travel, go to school, or even go to work in many cases. Those who were able to work from home were ordered to.
In April 2020, traffic volume had plummeted from 281.5 billion miles the previous April to just 168.2 billion miles. But Americans didn’t have the patience to stay home for long. Traffic volume for 2020 ended up being only 13% less than traffic in 2019.
Sadly, despite fewer vehicles being on the roads, fatal accidents actually increased in 2020. The National Safety Council reports that car crash fatalities were up 8% in 2020 even though the total miles driven was 13% less than in 2019.
As Aceable’s 2020 Teen Driving Safety Report noted, there are multiple reasons for the increase in fatalities:
More Americans were opting to drive instead of fly for their 2020 getaways.
More Americans were stressed, depressed, and anxious because of the pandemic. This affects reaction times.
And more Americans reported using drugs and alcohol as a result of the pandemic. This dramatically impairs driving ability.
As the COVID vaccines rollout nationwide according to the CDC vaccination guidelines, we’re likely to see traffic patterns change again.
What Are the CDC’s COVID Vaccination Guidelines?
The CDC’s COVID vaccination guidelines are changing as the situation evolves. Here are the guidelines as of March 2021:
The available vaccines have been tested and deemed safe and effective against COVID-19.
It is up to state and local governments to decide who should be vaccinated first. In general, states are prioritizing:
Medical personnel and other first responders.
Senior citizens and those who work closely with them.
People with medical conditions (including cancer, chronic diseases, heart conditions, obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, diabetes, down syndrome, and compromised immune systems).
Even after getting vaccinated, you should remain cautious. Continue wearing masks and distancing when in public.
As of March 23, 2021, over 128 million vaccine doses had been administered in the United States. More than 45.5 million Americans, around 14% of the population, have been fully vaccinated. And nearly 84 million Americans, over 25% of the population, have received at least one of the two doses.
How Will the COVID Vaccination Guidelines Change City Traffic?
With so many Americans already vaccinated, and the majority of Americans planning to get vaccinated, we appear to be on the path back to normalcy.
“Traffic is rebounding after a slower than normal 2020," said Mary at the Texas Department of Transportation. "While not everyone will get the vaccination, we’re hopeful that we can reach herd immunity so we can get back to normal, even if that means more traffic.”
As workplaces and schools reopen, expect to see more cars on the road during traditional rush hour windows. But traffic may not get as heavy as you remember it being. With COVID proving that working from home is possible in many cases, some companies are giving employees the option of making their remote work arrangement permanent. Some employees may commute to the office only a few days a week, and some employees may not commute in at all!
Many areas saw high volumes of weekend traffic through the pandemic as people drove to nearby towns and cities for a change of pace. And many rural areas saw an influx of campers and hikers enjoying the fresh air as a COVID-safe activity. These trends may last a while as we have rediscovered the joy of getting out into wide-open spaces.
We’re also likely to see an increase in nighttime traffic as vaccinations increase and nightlife resumes. This could be slow-going, as nightlife is low on the list of priorities for many Americans who just want to visit family and friends. But driving at night comes with its own challenges, particularly over holidays and weekends. So be prepared to be extra cautious when you start seeing more vehicles after dark.
How to Stay Safe as City Traffic Changes
As traffic on the roads gets closer to pre-pandemic levels, there are a few things you can do to help stay safe.
Take a defensive driving course. You can learn defensive driving techniques in a quick and convenient online course. It may even entitle you to a discount on your auto insurance premiums.
Respect the speed limit. No matter how many vehicles are on the road, you and your passengers will be safer if you stick to the speed limit.
Communicate with other drivers. Use your turn signals, lights, and even your horn as appropriate to make sure other drivers are aware of you and can anticipate your movements.
Whether you’re in bumper-to-bumper traffic or you’re the only car on the road, avoid distractions, stay diligent, and drive safely.