First quarter sees most traffic fatalities in two decades

August 18, 2022

Tyson Fisher


Traffic fatalities continue to be on the rise, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s latest numbers.

There were more than 9,500 traffic fatalities in the first quarter of 2022, according to NHTSA’s early estimates. That is a 7% increase from the same period last year, and this is the highest number of fatalities in the first quarter in two decades.

The preliminary numbers do not specify what percentage of the crashes involved large trucks.

An increase in driving may be a contributing factor to the continued increase in traffic fatalities. According to the Federal Highway Administration’s preliminary numbers, vehicle miles traveled in the first three months of 2022 increased by nearly 6% compared to the first quarter of 2021.

Consequently, the traffic fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled is also up. Preliminary numbers show that rate to be 1.27, up slightly from 1.25. That is the highest rate in the first quarter since at least 2011.

“The overall numbers are still moving in the wrong direction,” NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff said in a statement. “Now is the time for all states to double down on traffic safety. Through the bipartisan infrastructure law, there are more resources than ever for research, interventions and effective messaging and programs that can reverse the deadly trend and save lives.”

The latest statistics reveal a continued trend of quarterly increases in traffic fatalities.

There have been seven consecutive quarters of increases since the third quarter of 2020. Last year, traffic fatalities rose by 10.5%. That was largely the result of a nearly 22% increase in the second quarter, which was preceded by a 13% increase during the first quarter.

According to NHTSA’s data, the most recent decline occurred over 17 consecutive quarters ending in the second quarter of 2010. Before that, the last large streak of decreases occurred in the early 1990s.

traffic fatalities chart by quarter
Breaking down the numbers geographically, all but one region experienced an increase in traffic fatalities in the first quarter of this year. Region 9 (Arizona, California, Hawaii) experienced an 11% decline in traffic deaths.

However, Region 3 (Delaware, District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia) experienced a steep 52% increase in traffic fatalities. Delaware alone experienced a 163.2% increase in traffic deaths, up from 19 in 2021 to 50 this year.

The next largest increase is in Region 1 (Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont) with a 23% increase. Both Region 4 (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee) and Region 8 (Colorado, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming) experienced no change.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, there were marked increases in fatalities and the fatality rate per 100 million VMT in 2020,” NHTSA states in the report. “The increased trend of fatalities in 2020 have continued into 2021 and the first quarter of 2022.” LL