For the past three years, traffic safety in the United States has been heading in the wrong direction. Drivers have become more reckless since roadways largely emptied at the start of the pandemic. Now, a report suggests 2022 is on pace for the most fatal crashes in the past 20 years.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), traffic fatalities rose by seven percent compared to 2021. In fact, more people died in auto crashes in the first quarter of 2022 than in the first quarter of any year since 2002.
Preventable deaths and injuries
While the report indicated regional differences in the rate of traffic fatalities, it also pointed toward some universal trends. Specifically, it highlighted the fact that drivers have been less safe since the beginning of the pandemic.
As the Insurance Journal noted, experts have attributed many of these accidents and deaths to three changes:
- Drivers assume fewer officers are patrolling the roads. This is not necessarily the case, but drivers feel less likely to find themselves pulled over for illegal behaviors. As a result, they may engage in more of those illegal and risky behaviors.
- Drivers sped up as the roads emptied. Reports show they have not yet slowed down. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently noted that a Virginia driver’s odds of going 10 or more miles per hour over the speed limit increased by 50 percent from 2020. Notably, the NHTSA reported that fatalities had risen by 71.8% in Virginia and 52% in the region that included Virginia, D.C. and their neighboring states.
- Drivers and passengers have chosen not to wear their seat belts. The Insurance Journal reports this, although an NHTSA report from 2021 noted no significant drop. However, in May 2022, The Journalist’s Resource noted a rise in vehicle ejections. This rise in the ejection rate typically corresponds with greater speed and a lack of seat belt use.
The clear theme running through these points is that drivers are directly responsible for the rise in fatalities. There’s nothing about the environment or mechanical failures. All these points go directly to the drivers and their behaviors. Drivers are causing the fatalities, and drivers can act differently.
Do your part by driving safely
Year after year, auto accidents claim tens of thousands of lives. The NHTSA estimates that roughly 42,900 people died in crashes in 2021. So far, in 2022, it looks like we’ll see even more deaths.
On top of those fatalities, there are many other non-fatal accidents. These also take a toll, and a 2014 study from the NHTSA estimated that auto crashes cost the United States roughly $871 billion every year. That number is almost certain to rise with the increase in fatalities and inflation.
You cannot control everything, but you can help make things better by driving safely. Follow the rules. Slow down. Wear your seat belt.