NHTSA: First Quarter Crash Fatalities Hit New High

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 9,560 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in the first quarter of 2022 – an increase of about 7 percent as compared to the 8,935 fatalities projected for the same quarter in 2021. This would be the highest number of first-quarter fatalities since 2002, NHTSA said.

[Above photo by the Delaware DOT]

The agency added that preliminary data reported by the Federal Highway Administration shows that vehicle miles traveled or VMT in the first three months of 2022 increased by about 40.2 billion miles, or about a 5.6 percent increase.

Photo by the NYSDOT

However, according to NHTSA’s calculations, that means the fatality rate for the first quarter of 2022 increased to 1.27 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, up from the projected rate of 1.25 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles in the first quarter of 2021.

NHTSA recently began breaking out fatality trends by state for these quarterly estimates. While fatalities increased nationwide, 19 states and Puerto Rico saw traffic deaths decline during the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021.

NHTSA added that it would continue to monitor state-by-state numbers to make it easier for state practitioners, researchers and advocates to see if there is a trend and if there are activities these states are undertaking that are contributing to this decline.

Dr. Steven Cliff

“The overall numbers are still moving in the wrong direction,” noted Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s administrator, in a statement. “Now is the time for all states to double down on traffic safety.”

[Editor’s note: Dr. Cliff is stepping down from NHTSA to become executive director of the California Air Resources Board. He previously served as deputy executive officer at CARB from 2017 to 2021.]

To help reduce crashes and the fatalities associated with them, NHTSA launched a Speeding Wrecks Lives public outreach campaign in July that aims to change general attitudes toward speeding and remind drivers of the deadly consequences.

In addition to education campaigns, the agency’s regional offices are working closely with state departments of transportation to assist them in directing NHTSA formula grant funds to address risky driving behaviors such as speeding and driving while impaired, protect vulnerable road users, and reach over-represented and underserved populations using a broad array of programs and countermeasures.

NHTSA also noted that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, there were marked increases in fatalities and the fatality rate per 100 million VMT in 2020 – a trend that has continued off and on now for two years.

NHTSA said that this upward fatality rate per 100 million VMT trend that began in 2020 continued into the first quarter of 2021, but then decreased in the second, third, and fourth quarters of 2021. However, it has increased again in the first quarter of 2022.

A study issued by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in July confirmed that trend, as has data collected by state DOTs.

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