By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. traffic deaths fell 0.2% in the first nine months of 2022, reversing a sharp rise in the two prior pandemic years when speeding and other unsafe behavior increased, regulators said on Monday.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that 31,785 people died in traffic crashes through Sept. 30 compared with the 31,850 deaths in the same period in 2021. U.S. traffic deaths jumped 10.5% in 2021 to 42,915, the largest number killed on American roads in a year since 2005 after rising 7% in 2020.
Traffic deaths declined even though overall driving increased 1.6% in the first nine months of 2022. The traffic fatality rate through September is still higher than in any pre-pandemic year since 2007. A total 4,766 more people were killed on U.S. roads in the 2022 ninth-month period versus in 2019.
As U.S. roads became less crowded during the pandemic, some motorists perceived police as less likely to issue tickets, experts said, likely resulting in riskier behavior on the roads.
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, NHTSA research showed. Speeding deaths in 2020 jumped 17% - more than twice the overall increase.
Despite the slight overall decline in 2022, the number of pedestrians and bicyclists killed on U.S. roads is still rising.
In 2021, pedestrians killed increased 13% to 7,342, the most since 1981. The number of cyclists killed rose 5% to 985, the most since at least 1980, NHTSA said earlier this year.
In the first six months of 2022, U.S. pedestrian deaths rose another 2% and bicyclist deaths jumped another 8%, NHTSA said Monday.
The Governors Highway Safety Association said the "unacceptably high" death toll underscores the "urgent need" to ensure that road users outside vehicles enjoy the same protections as drivers and their passengers.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Richard Chang)