Report: Commercial traffic bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels

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Updated Jun 22, 2020

Samsara report miles driven

Industrial internet-of-things company Samsara reports that commercial traffic on the nation’s roads has almost returned to pre-pandemic levels.

A new report from the fleet-management technology firm shows that, on average, states are 95 percent away from commercial traffic levels experienced before the coronavirus led to shutdown orders across the country.

States that had shorter shutdown orders have seen increases in commercial traffic, as much as 7 percent, above pre-pandemic levels in the week after Memorial Day. “While this may be partly due to lost activity during the holiday week, overall miles driven and vehicle activity trends continue to show increases above pre-COVID-19 baseline,” says the “4 Ways Reopening Has Changed US Commercial Transportation” report by Ali Akhtar, Samsara director of data science.

“States with prolonged shutdowns are starting to reach the same level of miles driven as states with only moderate shutdowns. This is despite having seen sharper declines in miles driven during peak periods of COVID-19. Taken together, this may demonstrate all states are starting to return to pre-COVID-19 commercial driving activity, regardless of shutdown severity.”

The commercial traffic levels vary by industry. The construction industry is seeing a 5 percent increase above pre-pandemic levels in commercial miles driven. In contrast, the oil and gas sector is operating at 60 percent pre-COVID levels, according to the report.

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Meanwhile, drivers of passenger vehicles appear to be driving safer in some ways. Samsara’s data from its customers who use its AI Dash Cams have reduced harsh braking and acceleration by 40 percent even when accounting for the drop in overall vehicle miles driven during the pandemic. The dash cams are designed to improve driver and fleet safety. The devices collect data to indicate unsafe behaviors and send an alert when a driver is being unsafe.

Commercial drivers are also demonstrating a decline in such behaviors with fewer passenger vehicles on the road, the report says. “The trend has become even more pronounced as commercial fleets are beginning to resume pre-COVID-19 levels of activity with significantly fewer passenger vehicles on the road, leading to fewer harsh braking and harsh acceleration events per 1,000 miles driven. States with comprehensive restrictions still in place are seeing even sharper declines in these behaviors.”

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But the report says less traffic congestion has led to at least one unsafe practice:

“In early April, severe speeding rose 20% above the pre-COVID-19 baseline, indicating that while there may be a decline in some risky driving behavior (like harsh braking and accelerations), there are certain driving behaviors that are making roads more dangerous too.” The report defines severe speeding as 11 mph or more above the speed limit.

Speeding increases during pandemicThe increased speeding has been more pronounced in large cities that have strict stay-at-home orders in place. The reports says a sample of data from Atlanta, New York City, Houston, Chicago and San Francisco showed a 40 percent jump in severe speeding – twice the average national increase.

In conducting the study, Samsara said it analyzed aggregate miles driven, vehicle activity and safety event data for all who signed up for the company’s services before this year.