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Fatal car crashes decline only 0.2% in interim government study for 2022 — after 2 years of dramatic rise

Ford F350 Crash
National Transportation Safety Board
Speeding, distracted driving, and drunk driving all contributed to large increases in fatal car crashes in 2020 and 2021, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

The federal government has issued a preliminary estimate for how many people died in car crashes in the first nine months of last year.

The estimate by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows there were only 65 fewer deaths than the same period the year before, representing a 0.2% decline.

Adam Snider, Communications Director with the Governors Highway Safety Association, said that small decline comes after two years of dramatic increases in crash deaths.

In 2020, full-year government figures show that fatal car crashes increased 7.2%, despite many people staying home and not driving much during the initial period of the pandemic. And in 2021, deaths in fatal car crashes increased another 10.5%

"So the pandemic definitely did something horrible with traffic safety," said Snider. "And we're not going to come out of it by making incremental, small improvements from quarter to quarter. We really need something drastic to make up for all the ground we lost for a few years."

Snider said speeding and distracted driving increased significantly during 2020 and 2021, while at the same time, state investment in traffic enforcement declined. And he said pedestrian deaths also rose dramatically in the past few years, in part due to the increased popularity of large SUVs and pickup trucks, which are more deadly than smaller vehicles when they strike people on foot.

Snider said it's a good sign that Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has introduced policies and funding to address the crisis.

Last January, Buttigieg announced the government would support a "safe system” approach, which works to reduce fatalities by addressing the whole transportation system, rather that focusing primarily on driver behavior.

Buttigieg said the department will provide guidance as well as billions of dollars in grants to help states lower speed limits and adopt safer road design, including dedicated bike and bus lanes.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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