Traffic Fatalities Decreased in First Quarter of 2023: NHTSA Reports

Some states saw traffic fatalities soar in the first quarter of 2023, despite an overall national decrease compared to last year’s early projections.

New data released by federal highway officials indicates that the number of traffic accident deaths decreased nationally in the first three months of 2023, continuing a steady decline after a nearly two-year surge in car accident fatalities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its first projections for traffic fatalities in 2023 this week, suggesting there has been a more than 3% decline in deaths stemming from traffic accidents over the first three months of this year, compared to the same period in 2022.

That projection represents the fourth straight quarterly decline in fatalities, following seven straight quarters of year-to-year increases in roadway deaths, beginning in the third quarter of 2020. Researchers say the decrease is a sign of continued progress toward reducing a surge in traffic deaths, which began during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the greatest increases during that time involving pedestrian accident deaths, which soared in 2020.

NHTSA officials note that the projected first quarter 2023 traffic deaths are still high compared to pre-pandemic levels, and that several states saw surges in early 2023 roadway fatalities, including pedestrian deaths, despite the overall national decline.

Roadway Deaths Decreased Overall in 2023, But Are on the Rise in Some Regions

According to the new NHTSA data projections, 9,330 people died in the first three months of 2023, compared to 9,645 estimated fatalities during the same time in 2022. That data represents a decrease of 3.3%. Traffic deaths in the projection include vehicle occupants and non-occupants, such as pedestrians and bicyclists.

Officials note the projected decrease occurred alongside a 2.6% increase in vehicle miles traveled. The estimated fatality rate for the first three months of 2023 decreased to 1.24 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, down from the projected rate of 1.32 during the same time in 2022.

While the latest NHTSA 2023 projections indicate traffic fatalities decreased in 32 states, roadway deaths actually surged in several states.

Rhode Island had the largest projected increase, with 243% more roadway deaths in early 2023 compared to early 2022. Wyoming had the second largest corresponding increase, at 83.3%, and Idaho had the third largest corresponding increase at 37.5%.

NHTSA Says System-Wide Safety Approach Reducing Traffic Fatalities

NHTSA officials credit the projected 2023 decrease in traffic deaths to the National Roadway Safety System (NRSS), a national program unveiled last January addressing the national crisis in traffic fatalities and serious injuries, especially rising roadway deaths involving pedestrians in recent years.

The NRSS focuses on an approach which builds multiple layers of protection with safer roads, safer people, safer vehicles, safer speeds and better post-crash care.  Specific NRSS goals include a national pedestrian protection program, and a vulnerable road user safety assessment guide for states to reduce rising pedestrian and cyclist crash deaths, especially among children.

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In accordance with NRSS goals, the NHTSA also proposed a new rule this year which may require the installation of automatic emergency braking (AEB) on all newly manufactured vehicles, as part of an effort to reduce rear end crash deaths and pedestrian fatalities.

In an NHTSA press release, federal officials stressed that additional measures are necessary to further reduce traffic fatalities nationwide for both motorists and pedestrians.

“This is very good news, but we know that far too many people are dying on our roadways in preventable crashes,” NHTSA Chief Counsel Ann Carlson said in the press release. “We are taking significant action to reduce traffic fatalities, including moving forward on new vehicle standards to make cars even safer, investing millions of dollars to improve infrastructure and roadway safety, and working with our state and local partners to help drivers make safe decisions on the road.”

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