After two years of slightly depressed commuting in cars triggered by the pandemic, Americans are back behind the wheel in numbers approaching pre-COVID levels.
The peak year for driving, according to The Infinite Dial 2023 from Edison Research, was 2017 when 90% of adults had been in a car in the last month. The percentage hovered in the high 80s until 2021 when the pandemic effect took hold. In January 2021, the portion of adults who reported driving in a vehicle dipped to 83% and rose by one point in January 2022 as COVID waves rolled across the country again. But in 2023, with Americans adjusting to a new normal, Edison VP of Research Megan Lazovick told webinar attendees Thursday that 87% report driving or riding in a car in the previous month.
Of course where people were working had major impact on commuting. In 2021, almost one-fourth of the employed adult population was working primarily in their homes. By 2022 that dropped to one fifth and by January 2023 only 14% said they are working primarily in their home.
When it comes to the audio sources Americans tune to in their car, AM/FM radio remains way out front, used by 73% of the in-car population, steady with 2022. That’s 38% higher than the No. 2 audio source in the car – owned digital music, which is flat at 53%.
The big change in audio on the road this year is podcast listening, which accelerated. Almost four in ten of those 18+ who have driven or ridden in a car in the last month currently ever listen to a podcast in the car, up from 32% last year and 30% in 2021. That’s only a smidge higher than streaming audio, which was consumed by 37% of motorists in 2023, up from 32% last year.
“The increase in podcast listening in the car goes hand in hand with the increase in online audio listening,” Lazovick explained. The new data show 37% report ever listening to either AM/FM radio streams, or online-only audio sources while in the car, up from 32% last year. “The gains of these two sources are evidence that older cars are being replaced with newer ones that are better equipped to stream online audio,” Lazovick noted.
Looking back at in-car audio trends from 2013 to 2023 shows some noteworthy changes during the past decade. AM/FM remains king of the road, but those that use it has declined from 84% in 2013 to 73% in 2023. “While AM/FM has dropped in reach in the past 10 years, it still retains the dominant spot at number one, but there have been some significant rank moves for the other sources,” said Lazovick.
The 10-year comparison of in-car media documents how digital alternatives have taken hold. Owned digital music has gone from being used by three in ten to more than half of motorists. Online audio more than tripled, from 12% to 37% over the 10-year period. And after not being big enough to ask about in the 2013 survey, podcasting grew to 38%.
The CD player, once a staple in every car, has virtually disappeared from newer vehicles. It was the number two audio source in the car 10 years ago but has now dropped to near the bottom of the list.
Online audio has moved in the opposite direction. Only 12% listened to online audio in the car in 2013. “But with USB ports, Bluetooth connections and in-dash systems, that percentage has tripled to 37% in 2023,” Lazovick told the webinar crowd. And podcast listening, which didn’t even warrant an in-car survey question in 2013, now ranks as the third most used audio source in the car.
Making it easier for motorists to access podcasts and audio streams in the car, one in four 2023 survey participants said they have either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto embedded in their primary vehicle’s dashboard. And the amount of listening to online audio in a car through a cell phone surpassed 50% of motorists for the first time in 2023, clocking in at 53% after holding steady at half for the previous two years.
Said Lazovick, “The ability to connect to the internet in the car means that people are starting to listen to online audio where they couldn't before.”
The Infinite Dial 2023 was conducted via a national telephone survey of 1,500 people aged 12+ using random digit dialing techniques to cell phones and landlines. The survey was offered in English and Spanish with data weighted to national 12+ U.S. population figures.