Traffic fatalities declining from pandemic highs, NHTSA says

A downward trend in traffic fatalities appears to be emerging as the country shakes off the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a preliminary report released Thursday. Based on early numbers, the agency says that fatalities on U.S. roads have decreased for five straight quarters, resulting in a 3-percent drop in fatalities in the first half of 2023. 

“After spiking during the pandemic, traffic deaths are continuing to slowly come down — but we still have a long way to go,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said. “Safety has always been the core mission of this department, and thanks to President Biden, we are delivering unprecedented resources to communities across the country to make their streets safer.”

And while this is good news on spec, NHTSA included two caveats. First, these are preliminary numbers and they may change when the F.A.R.S. system is fully updated. Second, the improvements weren’t universal; the downward trend presented itself in 29 states; 21 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia are projected to show increases in traffic fatalities when all the data are in.   

While data released earlier this year suggested that driver fatalities declined in 2022, the same report indicated that pedestrian, cyclist and motorcyclist deaths were offsetting those improvements. American roads were the most hazardous they’ve been in decades during the height of the pandemic, when NHTSA observed a spike in fatalities of more than 10%

“While we are encouraged to see traffic fatalities continue to decline from the height of the pandemic, there’s still significantly more work to be done,” NHTSA Acting Administrator Ann Carlson said in the announcement. “NHTSA is addressing traffic safety in many ways, including new rulemakings for lifesaving vehicle technologies and increased Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding for state highway safety offices. We will continue to work with our safety partners to meet the collective goal of zero fatalities.”