It’s not your imagination: Many of us now drive less often than we did before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decline in driving may have started last spring, as states and other areas adopted stay-at-home orders and other public health guidelines beginning in March 2020. In some cases, the number of cars on the road dropped dramatically. In the month from March 19, 2020, the total number of miles driven dropped 58% nationwide, according to Metromile data.
Some signs point to this trend continuing.
Driving in the United States before the coronavirus pandemic
A majority of Americans are infrequent drivers, and this trend started before the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. Department of Transportation reported Americans drove less than 37 miles a day on average in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available. In fact, 65% of Americans drive less than the national average, making them low-mileage drivers.
And there is no single group of low-mileage drivers, a sign of how commonplace this is across the United States. Some of these drivers include:
- People who work from home or employees with flexible schedules who do not commute to work regularly
- Regular riders of public transportation, including buses, commuter trains, local trams, ride-sharing, shared bicycles or scooters, or subways
- Younger drivers and college students, including those who might live off-campus
- People who live in suburbs or rural communities outside of cities
- Older drivers or retirees
- People who share their cars online with others
How driving in the United States changed because of COVID-19
Despite indications last year that driving may be rebounding, including increased road trips in December 2020, the number of miles driven nationwide remains lower than pre-pandemic levels.
Metromile customers nationwide collectively drove 30% fewer miles year-over-year from April through December 2020.
Coastal drivers had the most significant changes in 2020. Virginia drivers put 33% fewer miles on their vehicles, the largest drop among Metromile customers during the pandemic, while those in California and Washington state plunged 32% and 30% miles from their daily routines, respectively. People in Oregon and New Jersey both reduced miles driven by 25%, while Pennsylvania cut their driving by 26%.
There are also indications Americans changed how they drive during the coronavirus pandemic.
While Metromile customers drove less overall, they started to take longer trips. The number of trips to new locations 75 miles or further away from April through June 2020 increased by 21% compared to the same period in 2019.
During the same period, drivers across the country drove more often in the afternoon, seemingly replacing their morning commutes and late-night driving with mid-day trips.
What the new driving trends mean for auto insurance
As Americans drive less often, they could stand to save on auto insurance.
Pay-per-mile auto insurance, sometimes called pay as you go or pay as you drive auto insurance, can reduce costs for low-mileage and infrequent drivers. Instead of paying a flat rate with traditional car insurance companies, drivers can instead pay for what their lifestyle might require.
Unlike other auto insurance, pay-per-mile insurance rates focus on someone’s actual driving.
Car insurance savings can add up. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Metromile customers collectively saved about 27% in per-mile premiums from April to December 2020 because they pay per mile.
As a result, some drivers saved double (or more) the auto insurance discounts provided by other insurance companies or suggested by the state.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Virginia drivers, who reduced their driving the most among Metromile customers during the pandemic, saved the most, paying 41% less in per-mile premiums than they did the year before.
Drivers in Washington state and Arizona had per-mile premium reductions of 31% and 29%, respectively.
Metromile customers in Oregon and Pennsylvania paid 26% less than they did in per-mile premiums than the year before, while California drivers cut their per-mile bills by 27%.
Finally, Illinois and New Jersey drivers saw 20% and 18% lower per-mile premiums, greater savings than the partial refunds some insurance companies provided during the pandemic.
The bottom line
Many Americans could benefit from pay-per-mile auto insurance. For many drivers, Metromile can provide the same coverage as other car insurance companies without a pricey bill.
After you download the app and get a free auto insurance quote, you’ll drive as you typically would for about two weeks (you should keep your current insurance provider to maintain insurance coverage during the trial) to show us how much you drive and whether you’re a safe driver. We’ll then use how you drive to show you an accurate rate or give you a discount up to an extra 15% off your quote, depending on your state, for safe driving.