The first quarter of the year has yielded more road deaths than the same period over the last two decades.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released early estimates for road accident deaths in the first quarter of 2022, and the figures don't paint a pretty picture. The government agency estimates a staggering 9,560 people lost their lives in traffic accidents in this period, representing a 7% increase compared to the same period last year.
More worryingly, this is the highest number of estimated fatalities in the first quarter of a year since 2002. A total of 19 states and Puerto Rico saw a decline in road accident-related deaths, but, overall, there's been an increase. The NHTSA's Dr. Steven Cliff said individual states must improve road safety. "The overall numbers are still moving in the wrong direction. Now is the time for all states to double down on traffic safety," he said.
So, what's causing this spike in fatal vehicle accidents? The NHTSA points to increased travel following the relaxation of COVID-19 regulations. These increases were noted in 2020, and the estimated death toll has continued to rise throughout 2021 and the first quarter of 2022.
Another reason for the escalating figures could boil down to the fact that American motorists drove more in the first quarter of 2022. As per the NHTSA's figures, vehicle miles traveled in the first three months of the year increased by around 40.2 billion (5.6% higher than in 2021).
Last year, the federal agency estimated nearly 32,000 people were killed in traffic accidents between January and September. Compared to the same period in 2020, that startling statistic represents an increase of 12%.
In the first quarter of 2022, fatalities per 100 million miles traveled increased to 1.27 from the projected 1.25 in the same period last year. The United States government is looking to reduce road deaths through several initiatives, such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which is investing heavily in better highway infrastructure and safety.
The National Roadway Safety Strategy, spearheaded by Pete Buttigieg, is also aiming to reduce fatalities by focusing on safer vehicles, safer traveling speeds, safer roads, and post-crash medical care. New vehicles are markedly safer than before, and while driver assist systems are very beneficial, many believe they're creating more distracted drivers.
Earlier this year, the American Automobile Association experimented with several semi-autonomous vehicles equipped with driver monitoring systems. The conclusion? "A driver determined to cheat the system can defeat it."
In-car technology has undoubtedly improved our collective driving experience, but there's an argument to be had for making drivers lazy and more distracted. In a bid to appeal to consumers, even mainstream vehicles now boast needlessly complicated infotainment screens that have been proven to make driving riskier.
So, whether you drive a 15-year-old Chevrolet Malibu or a technological tour de force like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, we all have a part to play regarding road safety. Paying attention to your surroundings, driving at responsible speeds, and not relying on safety systems should make for safer American roads.
"Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, there are more resources than ever for research, interventions, and effective messaging and programs that can reverse the deadly trend and save lives," added Dr. Cliff.