US traffic deaths dip in Q2 but still high as pandemic eases
DETROIT The number of people who were killed on U.S. roads declined slightly between April and June, which was the first decline in two decades as reckless driving during pandemic-era pandemic seemed to be slowing. The government claims that the death toll remains at an alarming level.
Estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that 20,175 people died in crashes from January through June, a 0.5% increase over the same period last year.
The second quarter decline ended a string seven consecutive quarterly increases that began in summer 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic hit. The agency estimated that 10,590 people died this year on roadways from April to June, nearly 5% fewer than the same period a year ago.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said while deaths may be declining, they are still at levels that require urgent action. He stated that “these deaths are preventable, but not inevitable” and that it was important to take action. Ann Carlson,
NHTSA Acting administrator, told a group Monday of state safety officials that she hopes that the recent decline will signal a downward trend but that the number remains unacceptable. She told the Governors Highway Safety Association that “that is not the new norm we want.”
Fatalities began to rise two years ago when roads were largely empty due to stay-at-home orders in many states. Last year saw a record number of deaths due to impaired and reckless driving. The government stated that many people were not wearing seat belts.
Carlson stated that the agency doesn’t know why fatalities fell because the estimates are too early. The agency estimates are usually close to the actual numbers, which will not be released until later in this year.
There was also a slight drop in traffic death rates per 100million miles driven from 1. 34 dropped from 1. 27 this year, Carlson said.
Safety advocates welcomed the dip, but suggested that there is still more the Biden administration could do to reduce traffic deaths.
For many months, the number of crashes has declined while deaths have risen. This suggests that reckless driving could be decreasing as offices reopen and more vehicles return to the road. Michael Brooks, executive director at the Center for Auto Safety, stated that this trend may be continuing. Brooks stated that there may be an improvement in some of the problems that were caused by pandemics, such as speeding, open roads and risky driving. “Traffic is returning to normal, the roads aren’t as empty as they were.”
“The fact is the fatality rate is still very, very high,” he said. “There is a lot that remains to be done.”
Buttigieg earlier this year unveiled a national strategy aimed at reversing the trend of rising deaths, including new federal guidance and billions in grants under President Joe Biden’s infrastructure law over the next two years to spur states and localities to lower speed limits and embrace safer road design. Auto safety groups claim that the Biden administration has been slow to act in other areas such as the rulemaking required to mandate automatic emergency brakes in all passenger cars as required by the 2021 legislation.
“It’s premature to hope for a slight dip in fatalities, especially considering the huge loss that we’ve suffered over the past couple years,” stated Cathy Chase, president Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “We know that good safety systems can prevent many crashes if they are implemented,” she stated.
Nearly 43,000 people were killed on U.S. roads last year, the highest number in 16 years as Americans returned to the roads. The 10.5% jump over 2020 numbers was the largest percentage increase since NHTSA began its fatality data collection system in 1975.
Yen reported from Washington.
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