Roads in the US Just Keep Getting Deadlier: NHTSA

Traffic fatalities have surged in recent years, and 2022 has the highest number of first-quarter deaths since 2002.

byStef Schrader|
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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates there were 9,560 motor vehicle traffic fatalities on U.S. roads in the first three months of 2022, making this the deadliest first quarter of any year since 2002. It's a 7% increase over the same time period in 2021 and a stark 18% increase over the same time period in 2019, per the NHTSA's report

The agency points to more people out on the roads as a contributor. Vehicle miles traveled per the Federal Highway Administration was up about 5.6% in the first three months of 2022 to about 40.2 billion miles. 

Worse yet, when people are out on the roads, some drivers are being less responsible. 

“When everyday life came to a halt in March 2020, risky behaviors skyrocketed and traffic fatalities spiked,” said NHTSA Administrator Steve Cliff, according to Politico. “We'd hoped these trends were limited to 2020, but sadly, they aren’t.”

Consequently, estimated fatality rates per million vehicle miles traveled are up from 1.25 for the first quarter of last year to 1.27 for the first quarter of 2022. The numbers for 2021 and 2022 are still statistical projections as the actual data for 2021 won't be available until later this year, but even as projections, the conclusion here is pretty bleak: American roads are the deadliest they've been in years, and we appear to be going backward when it comes to road safety. 

The data varies by region, with 29 states plus the District of Columbia expected to have increases in fatalities. California and Arizona (lumped together as one region) was the only area that actually improved, with its estimated traffic fatality numbers dropping by 11%. Two other regions—one comprising both Dakotas, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Nevada as well as another comprising Florida, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee—had a 0% change in estimated traffic fatalities. 

Yet the Mid-Atlantic states more than made up for it, with Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and the District of Columbia seeing a 52% increase in traffic fatalities. That region experienced an estimated 1.66 traffic deaths per million vehicle miles traveled. The tiny state of Delaware had the biggest year-over-year increase in estimated traffic deaths at 163.2%, but keep in mind that's an increase from 19 deaths in the first quarter of 2021 compared to 50 in the first quarter of 2022. 

Earlier this year, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said the federal government would offer local governments up to $5 billion toward infrastructure and other measures meant to curb rising road fatalities. The NHTSA's report doesn't break it down further into modes of transportation or other details, but the takeaway after seeing three years of surging traffic fatalities should be clear: be careful out there, and don't add to the stats.

You can read the NHTSA's full report here.

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