Vehicle Deaths on US Roads Climb for 7th Straight Quarter

Safety advocates suggest a change in focus
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 17, 2022 4:26 PM CDT
Traffic Deaths in US Reach a 20-Year High
A firefighter stands behind a sport-utility vehicle that crashed into a fast-food restaurant on Sunday in Wilson, N.C., killing two diners inside.   (Drew C. Wilson/The Wilson Times via AP)

(Newser) – Many drivers fell into unsafe habits when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, such as taking advantage of less congested roads to increase speeds. "When everyday life came to a halt in March 2020, risky behaviors skyrocketed and traffic fatalities spiked," the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Wednesday. "We had hoped these trends were limited to 2020, but sadly, they aren't." Figures for the first three months of 2022 show that traffic accidents in the US killed more than 9,500 people, the Washington Post reports. That's the most for a first quarter in 20 years, though since the US population has risen by around 45 million over that period, the death rate is lower than it was in 2002.

In 2020, the total for the first quarter, which mostly was before the pandemic began, was 7,893. "The overall numbers are still moving in the wrong direction," said Steven Cliff of the NHTSA. "Now is the time for all states to double down on traffic safety." A statement from the Governors Highway Safety Association agreed with that, saying, "We must not become desensitized to the tragedy of roadway deaths." This is the seventh straight quarter of increases, and several states recorded road death increases of more than 50%. Delaware's rise over the same period last year was 163%, per the Hill.

Efforts are being made to reverse the trend. Money from the new federal infrastructure bill will finance a campaign announced by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. He's outlined a "safe system" that would go beyond the behavior of drivers to consider the design of roads and vehicles. There's been criticism from safety advocates that the government needs to widen its perspective, including in its ad campaigns. "We focus a lot on the bad people who speed or drive drunk," said Ken McLeod of the League of American Bicyclists. "Of course those things are awful, but we also need to make that positive case for investing in safer streets, safer vehicles, slower roads." (Read more fatal car crashes stories.)

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