US road fatalities, once declining, will continue to rise in 2022

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DETROIT — The number of road deaths in the United States started rising two years ago, and that deadly trend continues in 2022.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that road fatalities rose 7% to 9,560 in the first three months of the year, the highest number for a first quarter in two decades.

Road fatalities have risen since lockdowns caused by the pandemic eased in 2020, as people returned to work and began making more car journeys. People drove about 40 billion more kilometers in the first quarter than a year earlier, a 5.6% increase, the agency said.

But the rate of road deaths per 100 million kilometers traveled also rose from 1.25 to 1.27 during the quarter, the agency said.

Prior to 2020, the death toll had fallen for three consecutive years.

The government has blamed speeding, disruptive drivers and other reckless behavior for the surge and has pledged to fund investment in speed enforcement and building safer roads.

“The totals are still headed in the wrong direction,” NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff said in a prepared statement. “Now is the time for all states to double down on road safety.”

The Infrastructure Act has money for significant investments in road safety, Cliff said.

The agency has started running ads urging people to slow down and not drive if they are impaired. On Wednesday it announced the annual national disabled driver enforcement program with local police for the weeks surrounding the Labor Day holiday.

Almost 43,000 people were killed on US roads last year. This is the highest number in 16 years.

Road fatalities rose 10.5% last year from 2020, the largest percentage increase since NHTSA began collecting fatality data in 1975. The agency will release final numbers for 2021 in the fall.

NHTSA estimates of deaths are usually close to the actual numbers.

Cliff, who was confirmed by the Senate as head of NHTSA just three months ago, is leaving the agency next month to head the California Air Resources Board, which regulates air pollution. Chief Counsel Ann Carlson will lead the agency until a new administrator is nominated.

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