America faces a ‘national crisis of traffic deaths’ as the number of roadway fatalities is barely budging, Buttigieg says

April 20, 2023, 4:22 PM UTC
Pete Buttigieg
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg testifies on Capitol Hill on April 20, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong—Getty Images

The number of people killed on U.S. roadways decreased slightly last year, but government officials said the 42,795 people who died is still a national crisis.

Estimates by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that the number of fatalities dropped 0.3% from the 42,939 killed in 2021. Traffic deaths declined slightly in the fourth quarter, the third straight quarterly drop.

But they’re still close to 2021 numbers, which were the highest in 16 years.

“We continue to face a national crisis of traffic deaths on our roadways, and everyone has a role to play in reversing the rise that we experienced in recent years,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose department includes NHTSA, said in a statement Thursday.

The department has adopted a national safe systems strategy in an effort to reduce the deaths, including more than $800 million in grants to help communities with projects in high-crash areas, NHTSA said in a statement.

Estimates from the agency generally are close to the final numbers, which for 2022 will be released next spring.

In releasing statistics for 2021 earlier this month, NHTSA said speeding and impaired or distracted driving are on the rise.

Data showed a 12% increase in fatal crashes involving at least one distracted driver, with 3,522 people killed. That prompted the agency to kick off a $5 million advertising campaign in an effort to keep drivers focused on the road. Agency officials said such cases likely are under-reported by police.

The number of pedestrians killed rose 13%, and cyclist fatalities were up 2% for the year. The number of unbelted passengers killed rose 8.1%, while fatalities involving alcohol-impaired driving were up 14%.

Speeding-related deaths increased 7.9%, while crash deaths involving large trucks weighing over 10,000 pounds were up 17%, the agency said.

NHTSA said in a statement that the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled also fell slightly in 2022 to 1.35, down from 1.37 in 2021. People are driving more as the coronavirus pandemic waned, with miles traveled increasing almost 1% over 2021.

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