U.S. Traffic Deaths Hit 20-Year-High in Early 2022

August 18, 2022

U.S. traffic deaths jumped about 7% in the first three months of 2022 to 9,560, the highest number of people killed on American roads in a quarterly period since 2002, regulators said on Wednesday in a preliminary estimate.

Traffic deaths have been surging since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said. In 2021, U.S. traffic deaths jumped 10.5% to 42,915, the most people killed on American roads in a single year since 2005.

Traffic deaths have jumped after pandemic lockdowns ended as more drivers engaged in unsafe behavior. Traffic deaths in the first three months of 2022 are up 21% over the 7,893 deaths in same period in 2020.

Outgoing NHTSA Administrator Steve Cliff said “we hoped these trends were limited to 2020, but sadly they aren’t.”

Cliff announced last week he would step down to take on an environmental position in California. Safety groups wrote to the White House on Friday urging quick action to find a replacement for Cliff.

Governors Highway Safety Association Director Jonathan Adkins said, “tragically, the U.S. is on its way to a third straight year of surging roadway deaths. Another new report of an increase in lives lost may feel a bit like Groundhog Day, but we must not become desensitized to the tragedy of roadway deaths.”

In 2021, the number of pedestrians killed jumped 13% to 7,342, the highest since 1981. The number of people on bicycles who were killed rose 5% to 985, the most since at least 1980, NHTSA said.

Pedestrian Fatalities Projected to Reach Highest Level in 40 Years

As U.S. roads became less crowded during the pandemic, some motorists perceived police were less likely to issue tickets, experts say, likely resulting in riskier behavior on the roads.

NHTSA research indicates incidents of speeding and traveling without wearing seatbelts were higher than before the pandemic.

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