NHTSA: Traffic deaths dropped in 2023 but were still worse than pre-pandemic years



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The COVID-19 pandemic quickly shut down almost every part of American society overnight, emptying roadways and making many areas feel like ghost towns. At the same time, many people took advantage of the open roads with reckless driving and extreme speeds. So, while there were fewer people on the roads, more people died in traffic accidents than before, with fatalities reaching almost 39,000 in 2020. The numbers continued climbing through 2021, reaching a peak of 42,915, but they’ve fallen for two years in a row, according to a recent report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The NHTSA noted that traffic deaths fell 3.6 percent last year to 40,990. That’s down from 42,514 in 2022 but still higher than any year pre-pandemic since 2008. Greater numbers of intoxicated drivers, speeding, and people driving without seatbelts significantly contributed to the totals.

Though traffic deaths fell between 2022 and 2023, the number of pedestrian and cyclist deaths grew in 2022. A total of 7,522 pedestrians and 1,105 cyclists were killed, the most since 1981 for pedestrians and 1980 for cyclists. More drivers 65 or older also died in 2022, up 4.7 percent to 7,870, the most since the NHTSA started record-keeping in 1975.

The agency released the numbers while kicking off its “Put the Phone Away or Pay” safety campaign, which aims to remind drivers of the dangers of distracted driving. It noted that 3,308 people were killed and an astonishing 289,310 people injured due to distracted driving. So, while traffic deaths are on a slow decline, distracted drivers remain a significant threat to “vulnerable road users” such as pedestrians, cyclists, and others.

The NHTSA recorded 621 such deaths in distraction-related crashes in 2022. Deputy administrator Sophie Shulman said, “Distraction comes in many forms, but it is also preventable. Our rebranded campaign reminds everyone to Put the Phone Away or Pay, because distracted driving can cost you in fines – or even cost your life or the life of someone else on the road.”



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