Car Accident Deaths Declined Over First Three Quarters of 2022, NHTSA Reports

Despite the decreases, some types of car accident deaths, such as those involving large trucks, actually trended upward, according to federal highway safety officials.

Although traffic safety experts previously warned about drastic increases in the number of car accident deaths during the first quarter of 2022, new data shows the number of fatalities may have actually dropped over the first three quarters of last year, potentially signaling the first annual decrease seen in several years.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released the latest projections for traffic fatalities in 2022 this week, indicating there was a 0.2% decrease in car accidents deaths between January and September 2022, when compared to the same time period of 2021. Data is not yet available for the last quarter of the year.

While the drop represent only a minimal change, the findings show progress toward reducing an alarming trend that emerged after the COVID-19 pandemic, where the severity of car accidents increased, leading to increasing numbers of deaths each of the past several years.

Vehicles continue to get safer and add new features that have proven effecting reducing the risk of accidents. However, NHTSA officials have previously warned about steady increases in car accident deaths over the last three years, with 33,244 fatalities reported in 2019, compared with 38,824 in 2020 and 42,915 in 2021.

According to the new data covering the first nine months of 2022, officials indicate 31,785 people died in traffic crashes during the period, compared to the 31,850 estimated fatalities during the same time in 2021. Specifically, NHTSA reports that fatalities declined in the second and third quarters of 2022, representing the first two consecutive quarterly decreases in auto accident deaths in almost 30 months.

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Officials note that the overall reduction in auto accident fatalities came despite an increase in vehicle miles traveled. The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) reported about 39 billion vehicle miles were traveled in 2022, which is approximately an 1.6% increase over 2021.

Reductions and increases in auto accident deaths were almost evenly split among states, with increases recorded among 25 states, reductions in 24 states, and one remaining unchanged.

Large Truck Accident Deaths On The Rise

Although car accident deaths decreased, there were still concerning findings in the report about the safety of U.S. roadways.

Trends in the type of auto accident fatalities differed based on geography and the types of vehicles involved, according to the report. When compared to the first half of 2021, fatalities increased in the following categories in the first nine months of 2022;

  • 12% for rural interstates
  • 10% for crashes involving at least one large truck
  • 8% among cyclists
  • 5% among motorcyclists
  • 2% among pedestrians

The findings highlighted a particularly large increase in the number of fatal large truck accidents, as crashes with the commercial vehicls often result in serious injuries and fatalities due to trucks’ size and inability to stop quickly.

A tractor-trailer can weigh upward of 80,000 pounds, which is 16 times the weight of the average passenger car, and can take more than 300 feet to come to a complete stop when traveling at 60 mph.

In November 2022, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) released the findings of new research titled, Predicting Truck Crash Involvement: 2022 Update, which found truck drivers with previous violations and recorded behaviors are more likely to be involved in a large truck accident.

The report found truck drivers with previous failure to yield violations were at a 141% increased risk and those who previously had reckless driving violations were 104% more likely to be involved in a tractor-trailer accident, which often cause serious or fatal injuries.


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