Post-Pandemic Dreams Of Using Our Cars Again

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

#Functional Safety

One year later.

The distant light at the end of the pandemic’s tunnel is barely viewable. As the recorded total of Covid-19 cases surpasses 120 million globally after almost exactly one year of counting, the number of new daily cases charted by Worldometer have dropped approximately 40% since January (from 844,742 cases on January 8th), the number of daily deaths have dropped 46% (from 17,621 on January 20th) and vaccinations are hopefully doubling by the end of March in multiple countries around the world. We are by no means out of the woods yet, but we can distantly imagine the heralded Herd Immunity as the number of adults interested in getting the vaccine rises, and both Moderna and Pfizer PFE +1.2% research a vaccine for children. Behind our kaleidoscope of decorated masks, we silently hope.

And imagine the freedom of the open road again.

There is a good reason for such pining: social-distancing has both saved us and taken a toll. Even prior to the pandemic, social isolation and loneliness were so prevalent in the USA, Europe and China that it was described in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry as a “behavioral epidemic” at levels averaging 25%. But according to the Harvard Gazette the pandemic has caused a rise in those reporting feeling lonely “frequently” or “almost all of the time” to 36% with a whopping 61% for young adults between the ages of 18 and 25. Setting aside the associated upturn in suicidal thoughts – which has risen 150% for all age groups – there are plenty of physical and mental repercussions from isolation including a 7% reduced sleep efficiency, increased risk of coronary artery heart disease, and elevated systolic blood pressure. In fact, research has shown that both loneliness and social isolation are independent risk factors for mortality in general. Yes, according to Steven Taylor’s book “The Psychology of Pandemics” (which was ironically published just eleven weeks before Wuhan reported the original cluster of cases), most of us should recover psychologically but that doesn’t mean we aren’t presently yearning for a more-interactive tomorrow.

And much of that interaction is enabled by our transportation via many seemingly mundane tasks that are desperately missed. Even something as simple as waiting in the car line to pick-up children from school made the Huffington Post’s list of “19 Things We Took For Granted Before the Covid-19 Pandemic That We Miss Now.”

The Most Desired

In the recent study by Kugler Maag Cie (February, 2021) of 224 adults surveyed from around the world, 62% said their highest priority usage of their vehicle post-pandemic would be to visit family and friends. “I desperately miss visiting my Mom and Dad in Traverse City and my daughter in Chicago,” says Jennifer Howard, a recruiter in the United States. “It’s not that we haven’t gotten to spend time together in some fashion, but I want time with them outside of the virtual world.” Mele Coronato, a business consultant in the Netherlands also stated that visiting with family and friends was her highest priority followed by “… visiting wildlife reserves, parks and beach cafes at the North Sea, indoor and open-air museums, space observatories, swimming pools, open-air cinemas, sport centers and cafés across Europe.”

The only other category within the study which garnered a significant number of votes was “Vacations to far away places” (17%), which makes sense considering travel spending dropped 42% in 2020 and resulted in nearly a half a trillion in U.S. travel losses alone. In fact, a separate poll last October of 1,500 Americans showed 25% miss travel with the ages 25-34 having the highest desire to journey.

Conversely, one of the least selected voting options in the February study was “Quiet commutes to an office” (2%), which was only matched by “Romantic visits” (2%) and “Shopping in stores” (2%), possibly since maybe most of them have found alternative solutions or work-arounds during the social-distancing era.

Maybe the most interesting anticipation shall be those who sold their cars and whether the reawakening will spur a return to the road. “When the shelter in place orders came out a year ago,” laments Frank Markey, an investment professional in London, “it was as if cars were rendered stranded assets for which owners incurred all the costs but reaped few, if any, benefits. I do, however, really miss the freedom and flexibility of a long-haul driving vacation on wide open roads in North America or Europe. For roaming and exploring over long distances, nothing beats a car.”

And nothing beats being free again.

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