DETROIT — U.S. traffic fatalities began to climb two years ago and that deadly trend is continuing in 2022.
Roadway deaths rose 7% during the first three months of the year to 9,560 people, the highest number for a first quarter in two decades, according to estimates by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Traffic deaths have risen ever since pandemic lockdowns eased in 2020 as people returned to work and started taking more road trips. People drove about 40 billion more miles in the first quarter than a year earlier, a 5.6% increase, the agency said.
But the rate of traffic deaths per 100 million miles traveled also increased during the quarter from 1.25 deaths, to 1.27, according to the agency.
Before 2020, the number of fatalities had fallen for three consecutive years.
The government has blamed the increase on speeding, impaired driving and other reckless behavior, and it has pledged to fund investments in speed enforcement and to build safer roads.
“The overall numbers are still moving in the wrong direction,” NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff said in a prepared statement. “Now is the time for all states to double down on traffic safety.”
The infrastructure law has money for significant investments in highway safety, Cliff said.
The agency has started running ads urging people to slow down and not to drive while impaired. On Wednesday it announced the annual national impaired driving enforcement program with local police for the weeks around the Labor Day holiday.
Nearly 43,000 people were killed on U.S. roads last year. That’s the highest number in 16 years.
Traffic deaths rose 10.5% last year over 2020, the largest percentage increase since 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 close to the actual numbers.
Cliff, who was confirmed 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.