There’s more evidence that a centerpiece of daily American life — driving a vehicle somewhere — is steadily resurgent. New data from Geopath shows the total weekly miles traveled from May 25-May 31, 2020 was only 8% lower than the same week in 2019. That’s up sharply from the prior week (May 18-24) when miles traveled were off by 18% year-over year.
The resurgence in Americans hitting the road is important to broadcasters since the car is where most radio listening takes place.
Geopath, the audience measurement service for the American outdoor advertising industry, has tracked the impact of lockdowns on miles traveled since the coronavirus outbreak began. The week of March 30-April 5 saw the biggest impact when Americans traveled about half as many miles as the same week one year ago. By late April the decline had mitigated to -25% year-over-year. For the last week of May, American miles traveled were up 83% from the week of March 30.
“Americans are getting back on the road,” Pierre Bouvard, Chief Insights Officer for Cumulus Media/Westwood One, said Thursday afternoon during a webinar for advertisers entitled “The State Of Consumers, Audio And Media.” “As soon as mid-March hit and the shelter-in-place mandate came down from government, traffic volumes plunged as low as 50% below the prior year. But since April it has sharply recovered and through May we’ve been right around 8% or 10% off last year’s norms.”
Breaking out Geopath data by market size shows lockdowns had less of an impact on driving in markets outside the majors. Total weekly miles traveled from May 25-May 31 in markets ranked No. 51 or larger match or exceed their prior-year mileage volumes: markets 51-100 (+1%), 101-150 (+8%) and 151+ (+12%) are all in the plus column. In the top 10 markets, miles traveled were down 22% year over year, -16% for markets 11-25 and -4% for markets 26-50.
“In markets outside the top 26, the shelters in place didn't impact miles traveled nearly as much as in the top 25 markets,” Bouvard observed. “In markets outside the top 50, traffic patterns have basically returned to prior years. In the top 50 markets, we’re still below prior years but they had a long road to recover and they’re recovering very nicely.”
Data from Apple Maps shows a similar trend. Search traffic on the app was up 117% during the week of June 1 compared to the week of March 30.
Meanwhile, a national study conducted by Luth Research shows consumers are split on when the number of coronavirus cases will decline. As of May 27, nearly one third (31%) predicted it will take 6-12 months, a percentage that has been slowly rising since late April. About the same amount (32%) expect that will happen within 1-6 months, a portion that has been steadily dropping since early April. Another 17% believe it will take 12 months or longer and 8% think the outbreak will start declining in 30 days or less.
While Americans think the virus is going to take a while to decline, their sentiment on spending is actually much sooner. Half of consumers say they expect to resume normal spending within six months – 17% say 30 days or less, 29% indicated 1-6 months and 21% said 6-12 months.