TRIP report examines causes & costs of traffic fatalities

Traffic Safety Pulse News

A new report from TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based transportation research nonprofit, examines the causes and costs of the surge in U.S. traffic fatalities through 2020 and 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic — numbers that, while decreasing slightly in 2022, remain at a high level as vehicle travel returns to near pre-pandemic levels.

That new report — entitled “Addressing America’s Traffic Safety Crisis: Examining the Causes of Increasing U.S. Traffic Fatalities and Identifying Solutions to Improve Road User Safety” — documents the increase in the number and rate of traffic fatalities from 2019 to 2022 at the national and state levels, examines causes and calculates the cost of both fatal and serious traffic crashes, then offers a “broad, comprehensive approach” to reducing them.

The report detailed that, in April 2020, as most activity was curtailed in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, U.S. vehicle miles traveled or VMT fell 40% compared to April 2019. By the end of 2020, overall U.S. VMT was 11% lower than in 2019. In 2021, VMT rebounded to 4% below 2019 and inched up to 1% below 2019 levels by 2022. However, from 2019 to 2022, the number of traffic fatalities and the rate of traffic fatalities per 100 million VMT soared and has remained significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels. TRIP’s report said the number of U.S. traffic fatalities increased 19% from 2019 to 2022 — from 36,096 to 42,795 — and the nation’s fatality rate per 100 million VMT increased 22% during that time, from 1.11 to 1.35.

Bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities, which accounted for 20% of all traffic fatalities in 2022, increased 19% from 2019 to 2022. From 2019 to 2022, the number of pedestrians killed increased 18% (from 6,205 to 7,345) and the number of bicyclists killed increased 26% (from 846 to 1,068).

U.S. motorcyclist fatalities increased by 20% from 2019 to 2022, from 5,015 to 6,000. That also coincided with the rise in the share of motorcyclists who reported not wearing helmets, which increased from 17% to 29% from 2019 to 2021, TRIP found. While motorcycle travel accounted for 0.6% of annual VMT in 2021, motorcyclists represented 14% of traffic fatalities that year. TRIP’s report said this significant increase in traffic fatalities during and after the COVID-19 pandemic appears largely related to increased risks being taken by motorists.

Emergency vehicle directing traffic past a motor crash on a snowy road.

In a 2021 report, NHTSA found that “after the declaration of the public health emergency in March 2020, driving patterns and behaviors in the United States changed significantly. Of the drivers who remained on the roads, some engaged in riskier behavior, including speeding, failure to wear seat belts, and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety drew similar conclusions about the role of increased risks being taken by drivers during the pandemic. A survey conducted by AAA with motorists in October and November 2020 found that drivers who maintained or increased their pre-COVID travel levels indicated that they were more likely to engage in risky driving behavior, including speeding, not wearing a seat belt, being impaired and driving aggressively.
Read more about the TRIP report by clicking here.