Agency says U.S. traffic deaths down 3.6% in 2023

But NHTSA says highway deaths
remain above pre-pandemic levels

(April 2, 2024) WASHINGTON — U.S. auto safety regulators on Monday said traffic deaths fell by 3.6 percent in 2023 to 40,990 — the second straight yearly decline — but are still significantly above pre-pandemic levels. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the 2023 results compared with 42,514 deaths in 2022.

The fatality rate in 2023 was higher than any pre-pandemic year since 2008. Total miles driven last year topped pre-pandemic levels for the first time.

As U.S. roads became less crowded during the COVID-19 pandemic, some motorists perceived police as less likely to issue tickets, experts said, likely resulting in riskier behavior on the roads. U.S. traffic deaths jumped 10.5 percent in 2021 to 42,915, the highest number killed on American roads in a single year since 2005.

In 2022, the number of pedestrians killed rose 0.7 percent to 7,522, the most since 1981, NHTSA said in a separate report on Monday. The number of cyclists killed rose 13 percent to 1,105 in 2022, the most since at least 1980.

NHTSA also said fatal traffic crashes involving drivers 65 or older increased by 4.7 percent to 7,870 in 2022 — the most fatalities in traffic crashes involving older drivers since the agency began keeping records in 1975.

Incidents of speeding and traveling under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, or without wearing seatbelts rose during the pandemic even as the number of road users declined.

The agency's acting administrator told Reuters last year some increase in traffic deaths was due to near empty roads during the pandemic that led to higher speeding and additional bad driver behavior.

The agency said alcohol- and drug-impaired driving remains a significant problem and a stubborn 10 percent of drivers do not wear seat belts. NHTSA has proposed requiring rear seat belt reminders in future vehicles.

Sources: Reuters, Automotive News