DETROIT (AP) — The number of people killed on U.S. roadways fell slightly from April through June, the first decline in two years. But the government says the number of deaths remains at a crisis level.
Estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that 20,175 people died in crashes from January through June, an increase of 0.5% over the same period last year.
The small second-quarter decline came after seven-straight quarters of increases that started in in the third quarter of 2020. The agency estimated that 10,590 people died on roadways from April to June, nearly 5% fewer than the same period a year ago.
The drop may signal that traffic deaths are finally dropping after an increase fueled by more risky driving that happened as roads were clear of traffic during lockdowns early in the pandemic.
“We all hope this is the start of a downward trend in fatalities,” NHTSA Acting Administrator Ann Carlson told a group of road safety officials Monday. Even with the small decline, Carlson said “this is not the new normal we want.”
There also was a small second-quarter drop in the traffic death rate per 100 million miles driven, from 1.34 in the second quarter of 2021 to 1.27 this year, Carlson told the Governors Highway Safety Association.
She said that because the estimates for this year are early, the agency doesn’t have specifics about why fatalities dropped. “Yet we know it will take a combination of factors including education, enforcement, vehicle design and technology and infrastructure improvements to drive those numbers down,” she said in remarks prepared for the group.
Agency estimates normally are close to actual numbers, which won’t be released until later in the year.
Auto safety advocates welcomed the dip but said there is much more the Biden administration can do to reduce traffic fatalities.
For many months now, crashes have been declining even as deaths have surged, suggesting a pandemic-era reckless driving that could now finally be easing, said Michael Brooks, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety.
“What it may be is that we’re seeing an easing of some of the issues that were caused by the pandemic — some of the speeding, open roads, risky driving issues,” Brooks said. “Traffic is returning to normal, the roads aren’t as empty as they were.”
“But the fact is the fatality rate is still very, very high,” he said. “There is a lot that remains to be done.”
He and others described some of the administration’s efforts as helpful but noted that it also has not yet issued proposed rulemaking to mandate automatic emergency braking in all passenger vehicles as required under the bipartisan infrastructure law.
“I think it’s premature to be hopeful about the slight dip in fatalities especially considering the tremendous loss that we’ve experienced over the last couple years,” said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
“We do know good safety systems if implemented will prevent many crashes,” she said.