WASHINGTON — Traffic deaths rose by 7% in the first quarter of this year compared to 2021, the highest jump in 20 years, according to new data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
NHTSA officials estimated that 9,560 people died in motor vehicle crashes during that time.
First quarter roadway fatalities have jumped 42% since 2011, and the death rate measured by vehicle miles traveled has risen 30% during that time, according to the NHTSA.
“Tragically, the U.S. is on its way to a third straight year of surging roadway deaths,” Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), said in a news release.
“Our country must focus on immediately implementing the National Roadway Safety Strategy that was released by the U. S. Department of Transportation earlier this year in partnership with leading safety organizations, including the GHSC,” he said.
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.
“Today’s awful news underscores the urgency of implementing this strategy and the need for strong and consistent leadership at NHTSA,” Adkins said. “GHSA and other leading national safety groups have urged President Biden to quickly nominate a qualified individual that can guide NHTSA through this turbulent time in traffic safety. The National Roadway Safety Strategy demands that all levels of government be bold and aggressive in making our roadways safer and a strong NHTSA can and should lead that charge.”
Carlson will keynote the opening session at the GHSA 2022 Annual Meeting on Sept. 17-21 in Louisville, Kentucky.
“The partnership between NHTSA and states is essential to driving down roadway crashes, deaths and injuries,” Adkins concluded. “GHSA is pleased that Carlson will also be meeting with state safety leaders while in Louisville to discuss how we can strengthen our partnership to reverse this trend and save lives. That can and must be done.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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