After two years of dramatic increases in roadway deaths during and following the pandemic and lockdown, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sees just a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel.
The government agency's latest projections indicate that some 42,795 people lost their lives in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2022 —representing a small decrease of about 0.3% as compared to 42,939 fatalities reported for 2021.
Fatalities also declined in the fourth quarter of 2022, according to NHTSA. That translates to the third straight quarterly decline in roadway deaths after seven consecutive quarters of increases that started in the third quarter of 2020.
Some states fared better than others in reducing traffic deaths. NHTSA estimates that 27 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico are projected to have had decreases in fatalities in 2022 as compared to 2021, while 23 states are projected to have experienced increases.
While the national “flat fatalities” message sounds hopeful, safety advocates remain cautious.
For example, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) responded to the NHTSA news with the following comment in its press statement: “Any reduction in roadway deaths is positive, but the minor decrease announced by NHTSA follows an unprecedented pandemic-fueled surge in roadway fatalities and dangerous driving. Traffic deaths rose from 36,355 in 2019 to 42,795 in 2022, a nearly 18% increase.”
Moreover, the most dangerous driving behaviors — speeding, impaired driving, and lack of seat belt compliance — all increased in both 2020 and 2021. This is not only impacting motorists, but also vulnerable road users like cyclists and pedestrians. For example, fatalities of people on foot have skyrocketed in recent years, reaching a 40-year high of nearly 7,500 in 2021, according to a GHSA.
The bottom line: While fatalities may have remained flat for 2022, our troubles are far from over.
In 2022, an average of 117 people died on the nation’s roads every single day. Traffic deaths have surged 30% over the past decade, with nearly 10,000 more fatalities when compared to 32,893 in 2013. Stakeholders, including U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, say we continue to face a national crisis of traffic deaths on our highways and byways.