A marked change in traffic patterns as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic during lockdown times has been noted across the United States. These new traffic patterns led to changes in the way Google Maps predicts traffic, while also providing new opportunities for researchers as long term effects of a significant economic shutdown and reduced traffic can now be studied to determine new travel needs moving forward. While the number of drivers on the road drastically decreased during the height of economic shutdown, the effects of reduced traffic on the prevalence of car accidents varied from state to state. Though little information exists presently, experts have already begun to explore the relationship between the COVID-19 pandemic and traffic patterns.
How Has Google Maps Adapted to New Traffic Patterns During The COVID-19 Pandemic?
In the past, Google predicted traffic patterns based on years worth of data crumpled with live traffic information. This method was effective for over 13 years. However, the drastic reduction in global traffic was so severe that a need for adaptation surfaced. As the level of economic shutdown progressed earlier this year, traffic patterns dropped nearly 50% globally. The new reality pushed Google to utilize more recent data and continuously update navigation systems based on driving conditions from a 2-4 week period. This shorter, more recent period of data will constantly be updated as the economy rebounds and traffic patterns increase. Accuracy is especially crucial as experts in transportation have predicted that there may be permanent changes to traffic patterns as a result of the pandemic. Though navigation systems have been able to respond and adjust to the new normal for traffic predictions, the drop in road travel has offered new opportunities for researchers as they investigate travel behavior moving forward.
What Novel Research Opportunities Are Emerging As We Rebound From A Global Economic Shutdown?
As the economy enters uncharted territory, there is a constant emergence of novel research opportunities. Researchers can now begin to investigate the impact of a nearly total economic shutdown on human travel behavior. Though significant research has yet to be conducted, a relationship between traffic behavior and economic shutdown/ pandemic level events has begun to emerge. First, the relationship between road safety and the economic downturn would be of note: specifically, the way in which significant economic downturn directly relates to road safety through elements of exposure to traffic, traffic composition, and driver influence/ behavior. Second, the relationship between driver behavior and traffic accidents in regard to the increased levels of stress and anxiety experienced by the general population under pandemic conditions could be explored. Finally, and perhaps the primary concern to be explored as the U.S. experiences potentially permanently altered traffic patterns is the relationship between the reduction in traffic as a result of economic downturn and the rate of fatal and nonfatal car accidents.
Has The Marked Reduction In Traffic Due To The Economic Shutdown Affected The Rate of Traffic Accidents?
As the economic shutdown progressed it would be expected that traffic would also see a significant decrease and, as a result, so would the prevalence of vehicular accidents. However, it has instead been found that there are varied effects on traffic accidents state to state. This is hypothesized by researchers to be influenced by a marked increase in anxiety and stress, an increase in recreational drug and alcohol use, or a significant uptake in idle time and open roads leading to more opportunity for speeding and “stunt” driving throughout the general population. While some states, such as California, have seen the predicted reduction in casualty collisions from March 1, 2020 to April 30, 2020, others have noticed no change, or even an increase in fatality crashes as a result of these influences.