DETROIT (AP) – The number of deaths on U.S. roads fell slightly in the first nine months of 2022, but pedestrian and bicyclist deaths continued to rise.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 31,785 people died in crashes between January and September last year, down 0.2% from the same period in 2021.
The agency also estimates that the number of deaths fell slightly in the third quarter of the year, the second quarterly decline after seven quarters of year-over-year increases.
Agency Administrator Ann Carlson said in a prepared statement Monday that more work still needs to be done to solve the crisis on the nation’s highways. It urges people to drive safely and look out for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
The Governors Highway Safety Association, a group of state highway safety officials, said the reduction in fatalities is welcome but follows an unprecedented two-year increase in road deaths and dangerous driving.
From January to September, the number of deaths fell by just 65. “Today’s report is a small step forward for safer roads,” the group said, blaming the increase in 2020 and 2021 on unsafe driver behavior including speeding, impaired and distracted driving and insufficient use seat belts.
The death toll began to rise two years ago, when roads were largely empty due to stay-at-home orders in many states. With less traffic, speeding has increased, as has reckless and impaired driving, leading to a record increase in deaths last year, authorities said. Many people were not wearing seat belts, the government said.
NHTSA says its estimates are usually close to the actual numbers. The final figures for 2022 will be released at a later date.
NHTSA said Americans continue to drive more than during the peak of the pandemic, with preliminary data from the Federal Highway Administration showing a 1.6% increase in mileage in the first nine months of last year. As a result, the estimated fatality rate for the period decreased to 1.3 deaths per 100 million miles driven, compared to 1.32 a year earlier.
The number of cyclists killed rose by 8% in the year to September last year, the agency estimates, while motorcyclist deaths rose by 5% and pedestrian deaths by 2%.
The number of deaths on rural interstates rose 12% in the first nine months of 2022, and the number of crashes involving at least one large truck rose 10%, according to NHTSA estimates.
But the death rate fell by 10% on urban collectors and local roads, and by 10% in children under 16 years of age. Accidents related to speeding fell by 2% during this period, and by 7% among people who did not wear seat belts.
Nearly 43,000 people were killed on American roads in 2021, the highest number in 16 years since Americans returned to the roads. The 10.5% jump from 2020 figures was the largest percentage increase since NHTSA began the fatality data collection system in 1975.
In an effort to reduce the number of deaths, the federal government is sending $5 billion in aid to cities and localities to slow down vehicles, build bike lanes and push commuters onto public transit.
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