Road deaths rise further, hitting highest first-quarter level since 2002

A memorial cross is posted on a traffic pole as Los Angeles City Public Works technicians replace burned traffic lights and signs after crash involving multiple cars near a gas station in the unincorporated Windsor Hills in Los Angeles on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. A speeding car ran a red light and plowed into cars in a crowded intersection Thursday in a fiery crash that killed several people, including a baby, just outside of Los Angeles, authorities said. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Nearly 10,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first quarter of the year, marking the largest first-quarter level since 2002, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced on Wednesday.

NHTSA projected 9,560 traffic fatalities in the first three months of 2022, the seventh consecutive quarterly increase, as Americans increased driving that was sharply reduced during the coronavirus pandemic. But the 7 percent increase in fatalities outpaced the 5.6 percent increase in total miles traveled on U.S. roads over the same period.

“The overall numbers are still moving in the wrong direction,” NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff said in a statement. 

“Now is the time for all states to double down on traffic safety,” he said. “Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, there are more resources than ever for research, interventions and effective messaging and programs that can reverse the deadly trend and save lives.” 

Cliff will step down from his role in the coming weeks, and advocacy organizations are urging President Biden to “swiftly” nominate a new administrator who has vehicle safety expertise to combat the issues, which the groups called a “crisis” in a letter to Biden last week.

The NHTSA projected 29 states and Washington, D.C., to experience increases in traffic fatalities in the first quarter, while 19 states and Puerto Rico saw traffic deaths decline.

Delaware recorded the highest increase out of any state, roughly a 163 percent jump from the same period the previous year. Connecticut, Virginia, Vermont, D.C., Hawaii, Nebraska and North Carolina all saw increases exceeding 50 percent.

The recent jumps have led some of those jurisdictions to increasingly focus on traffic safety.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) in 2015 set a goal of reaching zero fatalities and serious injuries to travelers in the District’s transportation system, an initiative she dubbed Vision Zero that has led to grants aimed at improving safety measures. 

But traffic deaths in D.C. and many other jurisdictions have only increased. The NHTSA reports a 62.5 percent increase in D.C. traffic fatalities in the first quarter of 2022, compared to a year prior.

The NHTSA previously released data showing that nearly 43,000 people were killed on U.S. roads last year, the highest annual level in 16 years.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in January released a five-pronged federal strategy to combat the rising traffic fatalities in January, and both his department and the NHTSA have touted safety investments funded through the bipartisan infrastructure law signed into law in November.

“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,” Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, said in a statement, also endorsing the federal strategy.

Tags Biden car crash Department of Transportation Muriel Bowser National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Pete Buttigieg Traffic fatalities
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