This week, the NHTSA released a report on its estimates for traffic fatalities in the first quarter of 2022. The agency announced that approximately 9,560 people died on U.S. roads during that timeframe. That number represents a 7% increase from the same period of 2021, when 8,935 traffic fatalities occurred. If confirmed, it would also be the highest number of first-quarter fatalities since 2002.
The NHTSA emphasized the need for further safety research and messaging in its announcement. It said that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has given states more tools and resources than ever before to help curb traffic accidents. It also launched its own messaging campaign against impaired driving, a leading contributor to deaths in roadway accidents.
The NHTSA study shows regional differences in traffic fatalities.
Traffic deaths were up nationwide, but not uniformly so. In fact, 19 states and Puerto Rico reported decreases in traffic fatalities. However, many other states saw large increases in the number of deaths on their roads.
The biggest percentage increase came in Delaware, whose first quarter fatalities increased from 19 in 2021 to 50 in 2022. That gave Delaware a staggering 163% increase in traffic deaths over that timeframe. North Carolina saw the largest increase in terms of sheer numbers. From 334 deaths in 2021 to 505 in 2022, North Carolina’s road deaths went up 51%.
The NHTSA splits its traffic death data into 10 regions of the country. Both Delaware and North Carolina are part of Region 3, whose traffic deaths collectively increased 52% from first quarter to first quarter. Only one region saw a net decrease in fatalities: Region 9, which contains just California, Arizona, and Hawaii. Region 9 saw a decrease of 11% overall, though Hawaii’s fatalities were up.
Traffic fatalities have been up since the pandemic.
The NHTSA’s announcement confirmed the continuation of a troubling trend. Traffic fatalities peaked last decade in 2017, but by 2019, it seemed as though significant progress was being made. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into this progress. The 2021 numbers for road deaths already represented at least a 10-year high in deaths on the road. This last increase over the last year shows that the U.S. has a lot to do to reduce these deaths.
The NHTSA accompanied the announcement of the new data with a new campaign against impaired driving. The campaign is called “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over,” and it gives special attention to the upcoming Labor Day holiday. During Labor Day weekend in 2020, 530 people died on U.S. roads, and nearly half of those crashes involved a driver who had been drinking or was otherwise impaired. This campaign is a combination messaging outreach and enforcement push. It will run through September 5th.