How has COVID-19 impacted on our driving habits?

by Petrol Mum

Allianz Australia has revealed the extent to which COVID-19 changed the way we used our cars and roads in 2020; from how far we travelled, to the impact on our mood, and how important our cars became to us.

With 4.3 million Australians adapting to a work from home lifestyle since March 2020, over half (54 per cent) agreed that their car habits have changed, with just 40 per cent of the Australian workforce getting to work by car (compared to 50 per cent pre-COVID). Traffic volume data reflected this with a reduction by more than a third of vehicle movements on the M5 Motorway in Sydney when comparing October 2019 volumes to April 2020, but this reduction has since reduced to around 5 per cent when the September 2020 data was analysed.

The WestConnex M8 tunnel opened during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and looked like this.

“COVID-19 highlighted the need for increased personal health and safety, and this came through in our research, which revealed our cars now hold a much higher personal value than before the pandemic.

Given our increased desire for a personal safety bubble when we travel, almost half of Australian motorists believe we will be driving more to avoid public transport and the threat of germs. In fact, half of Aussie motorists believe permanent changes to safety measures on public transport are needed to be made to help people stay safe from infection. A result of this is we will see a rise in the number of cars travelling on our roads this year,” said James Fitzpatrick, Chief Technical Officer for Allianz Australia.

While 47 per cent of respondents believe people will be driving the car more to avoid public transport because of COVID-19, we may see more people buying electric cars with 10 per cent considering the renewed focus on air quality will lead to this.

Over a third (35 per cent) of workers who made changes believing they will continue to work from home for some time. One benefit of this change for the average Aussie worker was gaining 72 minutes back in their day, with some (11 per cent) estimating they gained as much as an extra 120 minutes each day. Watching TV or streaming services (31 per cent), spending time with family (31 per cent), and cleaning (28 per cent) were the top three things people were doing with the extra time gained thank to commuting or travelling less.

The research also highlighted that the extra time had an enormous impact on the way Aussies lived and felt. Almost one in five (18 per cent) surveyed stated they gained a new perspective on life as a result of having more time on their hands since COVID-19, 23 per cent felt more relaxed and 19 per cent felt more productive.

However, the new ‘at home’ lifestyle was not beneficial to everyone; 20 per cent felt bored, 23 per cent felt lazier, 15 per cent felt anxious and 15 per cent felt lonely. The latter could be because driving to visit friends and family reduced by half during COVID-19. For this part cars could become a useful way to socialise while keeping socially distanced, with events like the up-and-coming Drive Against Depression get together in late January becoming even more important.

During lockdown, cars were not only seen as a safety bubble, but also appreciated as an escape bubble too and even though 48 per cent of survey respondents said they were driving less since the COVID-19 restrictions came into place, the emotional value cars hold for Australians has increased. 42 per cent of Aussies revealed they liked driving during the pandemic because of the sense of normality, routine, freedom or time away from the house that it provided them.

According to the research, 11 per cent of respondents claim their car is more important to them post COVID-19, one in six (16 per cent) car owners claim they could not live without their car, and a quarter (22 per cent) say their car makes them feel safer. This rises for those aged 55–64, with a third (31 per cent) claiming they feel safest from infection when in their car, indicating the humble car is providing a much-valued safety bubble when out and about.

“Our cars also became more than just a way to get from A to B, they became a space to work and study, a place to meditate and even a play area for the kids. In fact, nearly half of parents admitted to using their cars as a quiet space away from lockdown family life.

As we change the way we use our cars, how often we use them, where we park them, where we drive, motorists should be aware this has flow on impacts for insurance. We are going to be seeing more people pay more attention to their insurance policies and making sure they are getting the best deal and tailored solutions. At Allianz we know things have changed, which is why we offer a Policy Health Check to all our customers to ensure their policy still meets their needs,” Mr Fitzpatrick added.

The value and variety of benefits that cars provided to Aussies was vast, and it varied across age groups. Of their alternative purposes during lockdown, 62 per cent of 18–24 year olds used their car as a quiet spot to relax away from the house, indicative of their shared-living circumstances, compared to just 10 per cent of 55– 64 years old. Nearly half (46 per cent) also had to use their cars as a place of study, while one in three (31 per cent) used the extra space to practice mindfulness and meditation.

The great Aussie road trip is something more of us will be experiencing in 2021.

Many Aussies believe these changes will last well into 2021 and beyond with 53 per cent thinking COVID-19 will change our driving habits for the foreseeable future and one in six (16.6 per cent) thinking it will change our driving habits forever. Men have been more active in getting back on the road, with an 8 per cent difference between men (56 per cent) and women (48 per cent) suggesting they are travelling less. 

Respondents felt that COVID-19 will impact on their day-to-day life in the future by greater flexibility in the workplace (60 per cent); spending more time at home and spending less time socialising or in public spaces (40 per cent); and a rise in people moving out to regional areas (38 per cent).

Even the way we travel when we go on holiday has changed; with 9.7 million Australians (38 per cent) foreseeing the use of their cars during the recent festive season. This trend is likely to continue this year with international travel not expected to resume until 2022 at the earliest.

Photographs by Driven Women Magazine.

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