First-Quarter Traffic Deaths Highest in 20 Years, Regulators Say


WASHINGTON — Traffic deaths rose 7% in the first quarter of 2022 over last year, federal regulators announced in preliminary estimates Wednesday.

More than 9,500 people died on U.S. roads between January and March this year — the highest number of deaths since 2002.

"The overall numbers are still moving in the wrong direction," said Steven Cliff, the outgoing administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Traffic deaths skyrocketed in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic hit, rising 7.2% over 2019. Deaths rose again in 2021 by 10.5%. "We'd hoped these trends were limited to 2020, but sadly they aren't," he said.

Wednesday's release is the first set of publicly available 2022 traffic death data.

NHTSA didn't release a breakdown of crash deaths by category, but Cliff said around one-third of crashes are traditionally due to driving while drunk or on drugs.

More people than the population of Sedona, Arizona, died from drunken driving crashes in 2018, Cliff said. In 2019, more people than the population of Fairfield, Iowa, died. Both cities have about 10,000 residents.

"How many cities' worth of people are we willing to lose?" he said.

The agency also launched on Wednesday an annual "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" education campaign. The campaign includes $13 million worth of TV, radio, billboard and digital ads between Aug. 19 and Sept. 5 aimed at raising awareness of the dangers of driving while drunk or high.