U.S. traffic deaths drop slightly in 2022, but it’s still at ‘crisis’ levels

Traffic deaths dropped 0.3% from 2021, to 42,795, NHTSA results show. The Transportation Department is allocating. $800 million to help communities with high-crash areas.

SHARE U.S. traffic deaths drop slightly in 2022, but it’s still at ‘crisis’ levels
Cars travel along the inbound lane of the Kennedy Expressway near the Irving Park exit as left lanes are closed for construction, Tuesday, March 21, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Cars travel along the inbound lane of the Kennedy Expressway near the Irving Park exit. A federal official blamed the high number of U.S. traffic deaths on impaired driving, speeding and other reckless behavior.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

DETROIT — The number of people killed on U.S. roadways decreased slightly last year, but government officials said the 42,795 people who died is still a national crisis.

Estimates by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that the number of fatalities dropped 0.3% from the 42,939 killed in 2021. Traffic deaths declined slightly in the fourth quarter, the third straight quarterly drop.

But they’re still close to 2021 numbers, which were the highest in 16 years.

“We continue to face a national crisis of traffic deaths on our roadways, and everyone has a role to play in reversing the rise that we experienced in recent years,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose department includes NHTSA, said in a statement Thursday.

The department has adopted a strategy for reducing the deaths, including more than $800 million in grants to help communities with projects in high-crash areas, NHTSA said.

Estimates from the agency generally are close to the final numbers, which for 2022 will be released next spring.

In an interview, Deputy Transportation Secretary Polly Trottenberg said the department is grateful that the rising road death trend is leveling off, but is still working to prevent fatal crashes.

She blamed the high number of deaths on increases in impaired driving, speeding and other reckless behavior.

Philadelphia got two of the larger grants to communities, including $78 million to improve a dangerous 12-lane stretch of Roosevelt Boulevard, where 10% to 13% of the city’s traffic fatalities happened each year prior to the pandemic.

The city will reconfigure intersections, install safety areas for pedestrians and upgrade traffic signals so all pedestrians have enough time to cross, Trottenberg said.

In releasing statistics for 2021 earlier this month, NHTSA said speeding and impaired or distracted driving are on the rise.

Data showed a 12% increase in fatal crashes involving at least one distracted driver, with 3,522 people killed. That prompted the agency to kick off a $5 million advertising campaign in an effort to keep drivers focused on the road. Agency officials said such cases likely are under-reported by police.

The number of pedestrians killed rose 13%, and cyclist fatalities were up 2% for the year. The number of unbelted passengers killed rose 8.1%, while fatalities involving alcohol-impaired driving were up 14%.

Speeding-related deaths increased 7.9%, while crash deaths involving large trucks weighing over 10,000 pounds were up 17%, the agency said.

NHTSA said in a statement that the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled also fell slightly in 2022 to 1.35, down from 1.37 in 2021. People are driving more as the coronavirus pandemic waned, with miles traveled increasing almost 1% over 2021.

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