Illinois traffic deaths dip slightly in 2022, but fatalities are still above pre-pandemic levels: ‘Not a cause to celebrate.’

After spiking during the pandemic, Illinois saw 1,280 traffic fatalities in 2022, a 4% drop from the 1,334 deaths in 2021.

SHARE Illinois traffic deaths dip slightly in 2022, but fatalities are still above pre-pandemic levels: ‘Not a cause to celebrate.’
Vehicles travel northbound and southbound on the Kennedy Expressway Jan. 2023 near West Montrose Avenue.

Vehicles travel northbound and southbound on the Kennedy Expressway in January 2023 near West Montrose Avenue. Experts say traffic fatalities are on the rise due to increased driving as the pandemic wanes, speeding and distracted driving.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The number of people killed on Illinois roadways dipped slightly last year compared with 2021, but experts say safety improvements are still needed as deaths remain above pre-pandemic levels.

The number of fatalities in Illinois dropped from 1,334 in 2021 to 1,280 in 2022, which represents a 4% decrease, according to estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

But Kavi Bhalla, a University of Chicago professor who researches road safety, said the numbers don’t represent a meaningful decline.

“The road death toll in Illinois went up dramatically during the pandemic,” Bhalla said in an email. “Fatalities have declined very slightly this year. It’s not a cause to celebrate.”

In 2019, Illinois saw 1,009 traffic fatalities, according to NHTSA. That number jumped to 1,194 in 2020. In 2018, 1,035 people died in motor vehicles crashes in the state, and 1,097 in 2017.

Dave Simmons, executive director of Ride Illinois, a biking advocacy organization, said the slight decrease in 2022 deaths is encouraging, “but the number of people dying on our nation’s roads is still incredibly high.”

“Fewer people being injured or killed on Illinois roads is notable, but not cause for celebration,” Simmons continued, adding that the decline could probably be attributed to the implementation of federal programs like Safe Streets and Roads for All.

The programs fund regional and local initiatives through grants to prevent roadway deaths and serious injuries.

Simmons hopes Chicago can put money toward the Department of Transportation’s Complete Streets vision, which aims to design and build streets with safe access for all users.

His group urged the U.S. Transportation Department and the Illinois Department of Transportation, “municipalities and other decision makers to heavily invest in Complete Streets and safe infrastructure for vulnerable road users to ensure that this recent trend continues,” Simmons said

Other states around the Great Lakes were also projected to record decreases in fatalities in 2022 compared with 2021. Minnesota saw the largest decline at 6.1%, followed by Ohio at 5.6%, Wisconsin at 2.9% and Michigan at 0.3%.

But in Indiana, traffic fatalities increased by 2.5% last year compared to 2021, NHTSA said. Overall, the Great Lakes region saw a decrease of 3% in traffic deaths.

An estimated 42,795 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. last year, a decrease of 0.3% from the 42,939 killed in 2021, the highest number in 16 years, NHTSA said, adding that speeding and impaired or distracted driving are on the rise.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose department includes NHTSA, said the country is still facing a “national crisis” of traffic deaths.

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.

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.

People are driving more as the coronavirus pandemic wanes, with miles traveled increasing almost 1% over 2021, NHTSA said.

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