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US Traffic Deaths in First Half of 2022 Hit 16-year High

Published: September 19, 2022
Cars, trucks, SUVs, and other vehicles drive in traffic on the 405 freeway through the Sepulveda Pass in Los Angeles, California, on Aug. 25, 2022.(Image: PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

U.S. traffic deaths rose 0.5 percent in the first half of 2022 to 20,175, the highest number killed in the period since 2006, according to an early estimate released by U.S. regulators.

Traffic deaths have jumped after pandemic lockdowns ended as more drivers engaged in unsafe behavior. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Monday in the second quarter, traffic deaths fell 4.9 percent, the first decline in fatalities after seven consecutive quarters of year-over-year increases in fatalities but still substantially above pre-pandemic levels.

As U.S. roads became less crowded during the pandemic, some motorists perceived police were less likely to issue tickets, experts say, likely resulting in riskier behavior on the roads.

NHTSA research indicates incidents of speeding and traveling without wearing seatbelts were higher than before the pandemic.

In 2021, pedestrians killed jumped 13 percent to 7,342, the most since 1981. The number of people on bicycles who were killed rose 5% to 985, the most since at least 1980, NHTSA said.

NHTSA lost its administrator earlier this month after Steve Cliff took a senior position with the California Air Resources Board and the agency is being run on an acting basis by its general counsel Ann Carlson, who said despite the second quarter decline “the number of people dying on roads in this country remains a crisis.”

Safety advocacy groups have urged the administration to move quickly to fill NHTSA’s top job, which was never filled under President Donald Trump.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters last week the administration is “actively working” to select a nominee to fill NHTSA’s top job.

Buttigieg said the United States needs safer drivers, vehicles, roads and speeds.

“These deaths are preventable, not inevitable, and we should act accordingly,” Buttigieg said on Monday in a statement.

By Reuters (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Marguerita Choy)