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Driving on the uptick, insurers find

By HUB SmartCoverage Team on June 1st, 2020

From a complete COVID-19 shutdown to the easing of some restrictions, it hasn’t taken long for more drivers to get behind the wheel.

Many Canadians have been working remotely from home since mid-March when the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global pandemic. The reduced traffic led insurers to offer relief to their clients due to a dramatic decrease in the number of drivers on the road. The drop meant there was less of a risk for collision.

Public health officials were, at the time, urging people to refrain from making unnecessary trips.

CAA Insurance reported to Canadian Underwriter it saw a 20 percent drop in kilometres travelled in March compared to February — and most didn’t hit the brakes on driving until the pandemic was announced by WHO on March 11.

Intact reported a 50 per cent drop in distance travelled by customers earlier this month. However, like other insurers, they’ve noticed more people are getting behind the wheel.

“In the past couple of weeks, we have seen that driving started to pick up in the 10 per cent to 20 per cent range from the bottom of the lockdown,” Intact CEO Charles Brindamour said during an earnings call.

However, as Intact found, driving has started to increase quickly. More than 60,000 trips were made the first week of April increasing to more than 64,000 by the end of the month — an 81 per cent increase over the same period last month. Overall, however, trips are down 47 per cent from the beginning of March to the end of April.

Trips across Highway 401 in the Toronto area —North America’s busiest highway — are down 18-24 per cent in 24 hours compared to the same time last year, according to real-time data from the Ministry of Transportation. Looking at the data during peak morning and afternoon travel, the volume is down 30 to 40 per cent.

Tracking mobility trends

Both Apple and Google have been tracking mobility trends. Apple is monitoring walking, transit, and driving requests made to its Maps app. Google tracks based on users who have opted in for location history on the account and reports how many people are making trips to places listed as retail and recreation, workplaces, grocery and pharmacy, parks, and residential areas. The data doesn’t mean people drove to these locations, just that they were there.

Google is comparing data to five weeks between Jan. 3 to Feb. 6; Apple uses Jan. 13 as its baseline.

According to Google, trips to retail and recreation locations are down 44 per cent across Canada as of May 9. It hit a low of nearly 80 per cent around April 11 and has climbed back up since. Grocery store trips are down just six per after dropping to about 70 per cent in early April. Residential trips are up 13 per cent overall.

Trips to parks, however, have sharply increased. Park trips dropped about 40 per cent in early April; that number is now up by 40 per cent compared to Google’s baseline, but which covered a colder time.

In Canada, driving requests to Apple were cut in about half the week of March 23, plunging even lower the following week. However, similar to Intact’s reports, driving picked up in mid-April after Easter as driving increased by about 10 percentage points (still down about 40 per cent from the baseline). And it’s been on the rise ever since — now sitting at a drop of 16 per cent since Jan. 13.

Apple’s data also shows that Fridays are when people are most likely to drive. For example, on May 8, driving was only down about 15 per cent compared to baseline. The day before, a Thursday, driving was down about 24 per cent. However, of May 13, trips are still only down about 15 per cent, indicating that people are continuing to get behind the wheel more often than before consistently. The last time driving was that high, outside of the previous week, was March 14. That was the Saturday before the week companies urged employees to work from home.

Ontario and Quebec had almost 70 per cent of its drivers stop using the Maps app but driving is now down to 33 per cent overall in Ontario and 36 per cent in Quebec. British Columbia was similar to the Prairies where trips were down initially but have crept back up. Still, driving is down 11 per cent overall compared to before the pandemic.

Meanwhile in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, despite a nearly 60 per cent drop in early to mid-April, Apple’s data shows that vehicle usage is on a steady rise. Drivers were using their vehicles more than they did before the pandemic in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (upwards of 15 per cent more) — and just as often in Alberta. It’s similar in the Atlantic provinces as all but Nova Scotia have returned to pre-pandemic Maps usage.

RELATED READING: COVID-19: When will we return to the office?

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