The U.S. is on its way to a third straight year of surging roadway deaths. Nearly 9,600 people lost their lives in traffic crashes in the first quarter of 2022 – up about 7% from the year before and the highest number of deaths in 20 years during the same three month period.
The sobering estimates were released on Wednesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
“The overall numbers are still moving in the wrong direction,” Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s Administrator, said in a statement. “Now is the time for all states to double down on traffic safety.”
While fatalities increased nationwide, 19 states and Puerto Rico saw traffic deaths decline during this period.
But safety groups expressed concern about the overall direction.
The National Safety Council said the new estimates confirm the “ongoing national crisis” and the latest evidence of how deadly the country’s roadways have become.
“Today’s fatality estimates confirm our suspicions that traffic violence continues to plague communities across the U.S.,” Mark Chung, executive vice president of roadway practice at the nonprofit advocacy group. “We must not lose sight of the fact that this number represents family members, friends, and neighbors whose lives were tragically lost too soon. We have an obligation to them and their loved ones to confront this issue with decisive action.”
The Governors Highway Safety Association called the federal estimate “another tragic increase,” but is optimistic that the arc can be reversed and lives can be saved.
“Tragically, the U.S. is on its way to a third straight year of surging roadway deaths,” Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the safety association, said in a statement. but noted that we must not become “desensitized to the tragedy” of roadway crashes, deaths and injuries. “Instead, our country must focus on immediately implementing the National Roadway Safety Strategy,” a road map for addressing the rise in the death toll, was introduced in January by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
The long-term goal of the national strategy is to make people safer by improving roads, vehicles and post-crash care.
“Today’s awful news underscores the urgency of implementing this strategy and the need for strong and consistent leadership at NHTSA,” Adkins added.
In addition to the National Roadway Safety Strategy, the federal agency announced a number of country-wide initiatives to address dangerous behaviors and reduce and prevent traffic fatalities, including its annual Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over Labor Day high-visibility enforcement campaign, the Speeding Wrecks Lives campaign, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which makes significant investments in highway safety.
“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,” added Dr. Cliff, NHTSA’s administrator.