U.S. traffic deaths jumped about 7% in the first three months of 2022 to 9,560, the highest number of people killed on American roads in a quarterly period since 2002, regulators said on Wednesday in a preliminary estimate.
Traffic deaths have been surging since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said. In 2021, U.S. traffic deaths jumped 10.5% to 42,915, the most people killed on American roads in a single year since 2005.
Traffic deaths have jumped after pandemic lockdowns ended as more drivers engaged in unsafe behavior. Traffic deaths in the first three months of 2022 are up 21% over the 7,893 deaths in same period in 2020.
Outgoing NHTSA Administrator Steve Cliff said “we hoped these trends were limited to 2020, but sadly they aren’t.”
Cliff announced last week he would step down to take on an environmental position in California. Safety groups wrote to the White House on Friday urging quick action to find a replacement for Cliff.
Governors Highway Safety Association Director Jonathan Adkins said, “tragically, the U.S. is on its way to a third straight year of surging roadway deaths. 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.”
In 2021, the number of pedestrians killed jumped 13% to 7,342, the highest since 1981. The number of people on bicycles who were killed rose 5% to 985, the most since at least 1980, NHTSA said.
As U.S. roads became less crowded during the pandemic, some motorists perceived police were less likely to issue tickets, experts say, likely resulting in riskier behavior on the roads.
NHTSA research indicates incidents of speeding and traveling without wearing seatbelts were higher than before the pandemic.
UPDATE, STATEMENT FROM APCIA:
The American Property Casualty Insurance Association’s (APCIA) president and CEO, David A. Sampson released the following statement:
“The record high increase in traffic fatalities reported this week by NHTSA shows a critical need for continued roadway and driver safety investment. Property casualty insurers’ top priority is safety, and we are proud of our long history of being pioneers in auto safety technology and innovation through organizations such as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. However, we also are concerned that more crashes on the road are impacting all drivers’ auto insurance costs.
“As the industry works to protect policyholders both on the road and in their homes, cost drivers such as traffic crashes, vehicle repairs, medical expenses, fraud, legal system abuse, theft, and arson are pushing insurance costs higher during a period of rising inflation and economic uncertainty.
“APCIA is advocating for proactive solutions at both the state and federal levels for additional safety measures as well as ongoing solutions to reduce consumers’ insurance costs. This includes investment in innovative technologies and programs that make insurance more accessible and affordable. As an industry, we must keep our foot on the gas to protect policyholder’s financial security and the communities in which we serve.”
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