Are Traffic Fatalities Finally Declining in the Pandemic Era?

  • NHTSA releases study of roadway fatality data covering most of the past three years, after traffic accidents spiked during the early pandemic months.
  • The agency noted only an incremental decline in traffic deaths in the first nine months of 2022, compared to the same period in 2021.
  • NHTSA has noted some positive trends: Fatalities have not increased for two consecutive quarters, after seven quarters of increases.

    The first few months of the pandemic certainly saw an increase in dangerous driving, with instances of high-speed accidents being just one small part of the risky driving habits that Americans seemed to pick up.

    But was 2022 any safer?

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed this week that the picture is only getting slightly better, compared to 2021. The agency estimated 31,785 people died in traffic accidents in the first nine months of 2022, compared to 31,850 in the first nine months of 2021. That’s an insignificant 0.2% decrease.

    The numbers are about the same when it comes to merely counting the number of fatalities, but the agency also noted Americans are certainly driving more than they were in the worst months of the pandemic, with early data obtained from the Federal Highway Administration indicating a 1.6% bump in vehicle miles traveled.

    “As a result, the estimated fatality rate for the first nine months of 2022 decreased to 1.30 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, down from the projected rate of 1.32 fatalities during the same time in 2021,” the agency noted, citing another incremental decrease.

    Taking a closer look at the past two years, the agency noted that during the first half of 2022 fatalities decreased 10% for children younger than 16, and by an identical percentage on local and urban collector roads. The first half of 2022 also saw a 9% increase in rollover fatalities. In addition, NHTSA found fatalities decreased in a very specific age group—people between the ages of 16 and 24. The number of those who died as a result of being ejected from a vehicle declined 7% in the second half of 2022 compared to the first half of 2021. Fatalities in older vehicles over the age of 10 dropped 7% in this study period.

    NHTSA noted that traffic fatalities have declined in the third quarter of 2022, representing a rare bit of good news since the start of pandemic driving.

    PATRICK T. FALLONGetty Images

    However, the agency noted in the same time period that fatalities increased 12% on rural interstates, and 10% in crashes that involved at least one large truck. The agency noted in the first half of 2022 that fatalities increased 8% among cyclists, and 5% among motorcyclists.

    “There is a mixture of increases and decreases across the sub-categories,” the agency noted in its study of traffic accidents with data through June of 2022.

    If there are any truly positive bits of data to be found in the latest research, it could be that traffic fatalities declined in the third quarter of 2022, registering two consecutive quarters of decline after seven back-to-back quarters of increasing fatalities, which began in the third quarter of 2020.

    “Fatalities have not increased for two quarters now, but we have far more work to do to save lives and address the crisis on our nation’s roadways. That means investing in safety, implementing strategies that work, and embracing the safe system approach outlined in the Department’s National Roadway Safety Strategy,” said NHTSA Acting Administrator Ann Carlson.

    You can view the agency’s report titled “Early Estimates of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities and Fatality Rate by Sub-Categories Through June 2022” here.

    Have you noticed people driving more recklessly since the pandemic began? Please comment below.

    Jay Ramey grew up around very strange European cars, and instead of seeking out something reliable and comfortable for his own personal use he has been drawn to the more adventurous side of the dependability spectrum.

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