NHTSA: Traffic Deaths Fell Slightly in 2022, but Are Still Elevated

Chris Teague
by Chris Teague

nhtsa traffic deaths fell slightly in 2022 but are still elevated

When the pandemic shut down the world, some people took the opportunity to start driving like lunatics. With fewer people on the road, many of the few brave souls behind the wheel began speeding more, which ultimately led to a significant jump in speed-related deaths in 2020. Things appear to be cooling off, as recent data from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show a slight decline in traffic deaths during the first nine months of last year. 

Before going too far, we should note that the decrease in traffic deaths is super slight, at just 0.2 percent. That said, it’s the first sign that the steep increase in fatalities that started in 2020 is slowing. The NHTSA estimated 31,785 deaths through September last year, down from 31,850 the year before. That’s notable, as 2021 marked a significant spike in deaths by 10.5 percent to 42,915.

As Automotive News notes, the slight decline came as traffic increased by 1.6 percent. Though, the publication also notes that deaths in 2022 were still higher than in any year before the pandemic since 2007. 

Pedestrian deaths have not followed the same trajectory. They increased by 13 percent in 2021, marking the deadliest year to walk near a road since 1981. Cyclists didn’t fare much better, with a five percent increase in deaths in 2021. Both figures climbed further in 2022 by two percent for pedestrian deaths and eight percent for cyclists. 

[Image: Photo Spirit via Shutterstock]

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11 of 16 comments
  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Jan 10, 2023

    So much for driving aids.

    • Kwik_Shift Kwik_Shift on Feb 11, 2023

      Like AWD. They give a false sense of security and increase driver carelesness.

  • Bkojote Bkojote on Jan 10, 2023

    I see two issues:

    Distracted drivers- I'm usually against harsh traffic enforcement, but there needs to be a zero exception pull of licenses for people who text and drive.

    I see way more people on their phones while driving now than I ever have before. This is what scares me more than anything- the minute I have to come to an abrupt stop I worry about the person behind me crunching right into my bumper because 4/5 times they're looking down at their phone. It's scary on a bike too- I invested in a high-visibility light after some close calls with dumb drivers.

    A friend of mine waited 9 months for his new car to come in and a week after had it wrecked by a driver who was texting and rear-ended him at a red light (!). Another was t-boned just two weeks prior at an intersection by the exact same. Just about every day on I-70 there is a wreck from someone who rear ended another driver or merged into them while not paying attention.

    Bad/Jerkoff drivers- As of late, it feels like Big Altima Energy has spread to the majority of drivers I encounter. The amount of people I see who follow too closely in averse weather conditions, driving on a temporary spare on a 70mph highway, refusing to pull over when a snowstorm hits despite being in a Sonata with bald tires, or intentionally speed and weave throughout traffic (Any Super Duty truck with Texas plates and an empty bed) is staggering.

    Same goes for people who drive so conservatively they put others at risk- I see folks going unreasonably slow on onramps even at the merge point- there should not be a 40mph delta between you and traffic.

    • See 1 previous
    • Kwik_Shift Kwik_Shift on Feb 11, 2023

      This is why I employ an front/rear dash cam. I also have warning sticker on the rear, that most of the times causes drivers behind me to be more careful. If not, it'll be on camera.

  • Bullnuke Bullnuke on Jan 10, 2023

    A couple observations... I just looked through the year-by-year traffic death data from 1899 to present. It's on Wikipedia so it may or not be absolutely correct but I'll bet that it's close. Playing with numbers in data sets can be deceiving if the set of data is too small. Yes, short term there was an increase in highway deaths. Over the long term the increase in number, though tragic, is relatively minuscule. the big year was 1972; there was a drop after likely caused either by the implementation of the 5-mph bumper rules (LOL!) or, more likely, the Energy Crisis of the early '70s. The figures for number of highway deaths per 100,000,000 miles traveled currently , while not at a historic low, is following the downward trend that has been occurring for several decades. It is interesting to see how the deaths per 100,000,000 miles has been trending up a tiny bit since the mass adoption of cell phone usage in the 2010s. I remember that most cars could not exceed 100 mph back in my school days but classmates would kill themselves running bias-ply tires on ancient suspensions designed in the 1930's that were being used into the '60s on new cars and being impaled on steering columns thrust up through their chests. Most all of the cars of today will easily exceed 100 mph (well, maybe not a Smart 4 Two) and run on modern tires with pretty good underpinnings and have the airbags, collapsible steering columns, and crumple zones. With all this newer tech folks are still killing themselves and other albeit at a much lesser rate. We are likely running into a balance here with higher tech safety equipment for protection versus higher performance vehicles with added distractions for the driver (not just cell phones - monstrous lighted tablets with too much information glaring in faces may be a factor as well). In the end, we are far from the carnage of years past.

    • See 3 previous
    • Jwee Jwee on Jan 12, 2023

      @MaintenanceCosts, driving in Europe is very different from the US. The roads are buttery smooth, speed limits are camera-enforced constantly on the highways, speeding fines are high, gas is ≈$10/gal, so trips are rarer, and rarely casual, many people don't drive to commute ( tolls/parking are prohibitively expensive), but lots of local driving at low speed. Also, people take drunk driving v. seriously. and there are lots of good alternatives to driving home after a party, all of which shapes the data from the driving population.

      Or perhaps it is just collision probabilities, more driving hours = more accidents.

  • Tassos Tassos on Jan 10, 2023

    Finally! Somebody brought up the REAL culprit, DISTRACTED AND BAD DRIVERS. I am SO SICK AND TIRED OF attributing every ill in the world to "SPEEDING"!, in the face of MILLIONS of JERKS texting, eating, drinking, applying makeup, (insert your fav distraction here) when they should be DRIVING. When you drive on the AUtobahn at TWICE the speed our distracted, sorry excuses of drivers drive on OUR Sorry Roads, you would expect 10 times the fatalities, right? ACTUALLY THEY ARE LESS! Because peopke there take driving EFFING SERIOUSLY and their dumb teens spend 100 HOURS in lessons, vs the 5 it took ME to get my licence (on an auto vehicle, and then bought a manual VW)