Fuel sales data suggests shorter trips for July 4th this summer

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, this July 4th holiday was anticipated to be, in relative terms, one of the weakest Independence Day travel periods in the last 50 years. But while overall travel was down, the percentage of Americans traveling by car was projected to be higher than usual, a prediction that appears to be supported by fuel sales data.   

Comparing 2020 and 2019 data is more difficult than usual; this year the 4th fell on Saturday but the holiday was observed on Friday. Last year, it fell and was observed on Thursday.  The charts below show the gas sales (measured in gallons) over the holiday period and in the weeks running up to the holiday.   

On each chart the solid lines are the sales on that day, the dotted lines are the same day the previous week as a comparison.  We can see some key similarities and differences in the data between the 2 years:  

In both years we see a run up in sales above the previous week, beginning a few days before the holiday (excluding the Tuesday in 2019) as people fuel up their cars in advance of planned trips.  This indicates that holiday celebrations still involved travel in 2020. 

Once we reached the holiday, we see very different patterns. In 2019 we saw sales decline on the 4th, and stay low for the next two days, suggesting that people were away for the weekend and maybe longer.  This year, however, we saw sales stay relatively high on Friday the 3rd and only really decline for one day, returning to normal by Sunday.  This suggests day trips were more common than in prior years.   

In late June, AAA forecasted that 97% of Americans’ summer trips would be by car. The agency also predicted most travelers would plan multiple trips, extended weekend getaways or drives closer to home.  Our data suggests that road trips were at least as popular as before, but perhaps we are not seeing the extended breaks that were forecast. 

According to data from Descartes Labs, general mobility has returned to pre-Covid-19 levels in more than two thirds of states, but long-distance mobility has remained depressed.   

Lee Barnes

The Author
Lee leads the Data Insights team and is a self-confessed data geek who can often be found engaging with his team members and digging into all kinds of data.

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