Detroit — US traffic deaths began two years ago, and the fatality trend continues into 2022.
According to estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, road deaths rose 7% during the first three months of the year to reach 9,560 people, the highest in the first quarter in two decades.
Traffic deaths have increased since the pandemic lockdown was eased in 2020, as people returned to work and took more road trips. The agency said people drove nearly 40 billion miles in the first quarter, a 5.6% increase compared to a year ago.
But the rate of traffic deaths per 100 million miles traveled also increased from 1.25 deaths to 1.27 during the quarter, according to the agency.
Before 2020, there was a decline in the number of deaths for three consecutive years.
The government has blamed the increase on speeding, poor driving and other reckless behavior, and has pledged to invest in speed enforcement and build safer roads.
“The overall numbers are still headed in the wrong direction,” NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliffe said in a prepared statement. “Now is the time for all states to double traffic safety.”
Cliff said there is money in the infrastructure law for a significant investment in highway safety.
The agency has started running advertisements urging people to slow down and not drive when impaired. On Wednesday it announced an annual national impaired driving enforcement event with local police for the weeks surrounding the Labor Day holiday.
Last year, nearly 43,000 people were killed on American roads. This is the highest number in 16 years.
Traffic deaths increased 10.5% last year compared to 2020, the largest percentage increase since the NHTSA began its fatality data collection in 1975. The agency will release final numbers for 2021 in the fall.
NHTSA’s fatality estimates are usually closer to the actual number.
Cliff, who was ratified by the Senate to run NHTSA just three months ago, is leaving the agency next month to run the California Air Resources Board, which regulates pollution. Chief Counsel Ann Carlson will run the agency until a new administrator is nominated.