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U.S. traffic deaths surge as driving increases

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports 9,560 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first quarter of 2022, an increase of 7% from the year before. File photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/17c75ceb9702859f8e2e73ff4d3ba6de/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports 9,560 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first quarter of 2022, an increase of 7% from the year before. File photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 17 (UPI) -- More people died in motor vehicle crashes in the United States at the start of 2022 than in any other first quarter in the past two decades, according to new data released Wednesday.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates 9,560 people died in vehicle crashes in the first quarter of this year, the most first-quarter road deaths since 2002 and a 7% increase compared to 2021. It also marks the seventh consecutive quarterly increase in traffic deaths since the third quarter of 2020.

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NHTSA said the fatalities per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled increased to 1.27 in 2022 from a rate of 1.25 the previous year.

"The overall numbers are still moving in the wrong direction," Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA's administrator, said in a statement Wednesday. "Now is the time for all states to double down on traffic safety."

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While traffic deaths increased nationwide, 19 states and Puerto Rico saw a drop in car-related deaths during this period.

NHTSA is counting on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, enacted in November, to help bring down traffic deaths and improve highway safety across the country. The law provides funds to rebuild roads and bridges that are in poor condition. It also supports the Safe Streets and Roads for All program to reduce traffic fatalities.

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"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," Cliff said.

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NHTSA has launched campaigns to reduce traffic deaths, including a public education message to stop speeding. The Speeding Wrecks Lives educational campaign focuses on the deadly consequences of driving too fast. The agency also launched its annual Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over Labor Day campaign to prevent drunk driving over the holiday weekend.

The surge in traffic deaths, reported by NHTSA, comes as driving increases in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Federal Highway Administration, total driving increased by an average of 5.9%, or 40.2 billion miles, in the first three months of 2022.

"Tragically, the U.S. is on its way to a third straight year of surging roadway deaths," Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, said in a statement. "We must not become desensitized to the tragedy of roadway deaths."

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