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August 18, 2022

Traffic deaths continue to climb even as homicides seem to be declining in 2022

Amid persistent discussions and debates over public safety, I often notice that traffic harms do not garner the amount of attention or concern as traditional crimes.  This reality is on my mind again with the latest official news on traffic fatalities reported in this Hill article headlined "Road deaths rise further, hitting highest first-quarter level since 2002."  Here are excerpts:

Nearly 10,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first quarter of the year, marking the largest first-quarter level since 2002, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced on Wednesday.

NHTSA projected 9,560 traffic fatalities in the first three months of 2022, the seventh consecutive quarterly increase, as Americans increased driving that was sharply reduced during the coronavirus pandemic. But the 7 percent increase in fatalities outpaced the 5.6 percent increase in total miles traveled on U.S. roads over the same period. “The overall numbers are still moving in the wrong direction,” NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff said in a statement.

“Now is the time for all states to double down on traffic safety,” he said. “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.”...

The NHTSA projected 29 states and Washington, D.C., to experience increases in traffic fatalities in the first quarter, while 19 states and Puerto Rico saw traffic deaths decline. Delaware recorded the highest increase out of any state, roughly a 163 percent jump from the same period the previous year. Connecticut, Virginia, Vermont, D.C., Hawaii, Nebraska and North Carolina all saw increases exceeding 50 percent....

The NHTSA previously released data showing that nearly 43,000 people were killed on U.S. roads last year, the highest annual level in 16 years.

For a little public safety context, the FBI reported "more than 21,500 homicides" in the US for 2020; we do not have an FBI number for 2021, but most reporting suggests there may have been over 22,000 homicides. But, encouragingly, this AH Datalytics webpage with a "YTD Murder Comparison" Dashboard collecting homicide data from police in nearly 100 big cities suggests homicides are not trending down in 2022.

Returning to the disconcerting roadway data, even with the recent pandemic-era spike in US murders, there are still nearly twice as many persons killed on the roadways than by homicides throughout the US.  And while its seems homicide numbers are starting to trend in a positive direction in 2022, traffic fatalities are still headed the wrong way.  

August 18, 2022 at 10:34 AM | Permalink


I’m not sure why we would compare traffic deaths to murder any more than we would traffic deaths to the number of parents buying jungle gyms for their kids.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Aug 18, 2022 4:34:11 PM

Really, Tarls? You do not think deaths, and arguably preventable deaths not caused by disease or illness, are somewhat comparable?

Notably, data suggest 1/3 of traffic deaths are a result of speeding and 1/4 involve alcohol, and so perhaps 50% or more of traffic deaths are the result of wrongful behavior. (There is also proper concern about persons with a dangerous criminal past going on to commit a homicide; comparably, a significant number of those involved in drunk driving fatalities had prior convictions for DUI.)

Posted by: Doug B. | Aug 18, 2022 5:27:55 PM


A question. What force is making the number of murders go down while traffic fatalities increase? Connect the dots for me.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Aug 18, 2022 8:38:06 PM

Tarls: I suspect a wide variety of forces are in play to account for why murders seem to be going down in 2022 while traffic deaths are continuing to trend up. My main point here is that, in the name of saving lives, we might want to give as much public policy attention to traffic deaths as we give to murders.

Posted by: Doug B. | Aug 18, 2022 11:51:09 PM


I don’t deny that there are a “variety of forces.” I just don’t see how the forces are connected.

Do you have evidence that in the past there has been a correlation between traffic death and murder? If no, how is this the same or different?

Low carb diets several years ago had Krispy Kreme’s sales plunge while prisons were emptying but I don’t pretend the two are related.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Aug 19, 2022 2:05:47 PM

Tarls, I am not trying to contend that there are causal links or even correlations between homicides and traffic deaths (though there might be). I mean just to note that a whole lot of time and energy (and political rhetoric) circles around trying to "save lives" from homicides while we do not generally see similar investment of time and energy (and political rhetoric) around trying to "save lives" from traffic deaths. And yet there may be more lives --- perhaps many more lives --- to be saved from a focus on traffic deaths.

Though not meant to be profound, I am just making a numbers-based observation about our apparent priorities (and perhaps also our criminal justice politics).

Posted by: Doug B. | Aug 19, 2022 4:32:26 PM


Traffic deaths are overwhelmingly accidental and part of everyday life while murder is done with the intent to harm.

At a basic level, most of us “have” to drive. No one has to murder.

It’s why MADD became such a powerhouse in the 80’s. It’s a pre-meditated decision to drive drunk and put others at risk. It received a large “investment of time and energy, and still does.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Aug 22, 2022 7:14:52 PM

These are sound points, Tarls, but drunk driving deaths and speeding deaths are still spiking in 2022, while murders are starting to trend down. In addition, avoiding certain neighborhoods and certain people make the homicide risk drop to nearly zero for most people, whereas (as you put it) traffic deaths are "part of everyday life" for those of us who have to drive to work or school or elsewhere.

These are reasons I find it notable that a rise in murders gets so much attention while a rise in traffic deaths gets relatively little. The risk of death from the former for the average law-abiding person seems so much lower than the risk of death from the latter. Moreover, as your MADD point highlights, a sustained focus on just one aspect of traffic deaths (drunk driving) seemed capable of moving the "traffic death needle" (e.g., MADD has been credited for helping to reduce drunk driving annual crashed from 25,000 down to 10,000). So, if we really care about saving innocent lives, I see great opportunity in the motor space -- though I also would love to see more done in the murder space (but, given that the vast majority of US murders (about 80%) now involve a gun, I think we need some smart gun technology advances to do a lot better just as safer cars likely have contributed most significantly to reductions in traffic deaths).

Posted by: Doug B. | Aug 23, 2022 1:58:57 PM

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