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

US Traffic Deaths in First Half of 2022 Hit 16-Year High
Traffic at twilight along 42nd St. in the Manhattan borough of New York on March 27, 2019. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

WASHINGTON—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 percent 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.”

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.