The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says traffic deaths have increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In 2021, traffic deaths in the United States increased 10.5% to 42,915, the highest number of people killed on American roads in a single year since 2005.
The spike has been dubbed a "crisis" by the Biden administration.
Traffic fatalities increased after pandemic lockdowns ended, as more drivers engaged in risky behavior. The number of traffic deaths in the first three months of 2022 is up 21% from 7,893 in the same period in 2020.
"The overall numbers continue to trend downward," said outgoing NHTSA Administrator Steve Cliff in a statement. "Now is the time for all states to step up their traffic safety efforts."
According to the Office of Highway Policy Administration, the increase in traffic deaths outpaced the 5.6% increase in road-miles traveled in the first quarter.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) bemoaned the government's failure to address "this immediate crisis."
"We've seen a troubling lack of commitment to take action to stop the slaughter on our roads," MADD said in a statement released on Wednesday.
It advocated for a "return to the basics of enforcing hazardous driving behavior laws and prosecuting these choices to the fullest extent permitted by law."
Cliff announced last week that he would resign to take a job in the environmental field in California. On Friday, safety groups urged the White House to act quickly to find a replacement.
"Tragically, the United States is on its way to a third straight year of surging roadway deaths," said Jonathan Adkins, Director of the Governors Highway Safety Association.
In 2021, the number of pedestrians killed increased by 13% to 7,342, the highest since 1981. According to the NHTSA, the number of people killed on bicycles increased by 5% to 985, the most since at least 1980.
Experts say that as U.S. roads became less congested during the pandemic, some motorists believed police were less likely to issue tickets, leading to riskier driving behavior.
According to NHTSA research, incidents of speeding and driving without a seatbelt were higher than before the pandemic.
The Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association cited the increase in fatalities in urging Congress and the NHTSA to accelerate the adoption of autonomous vehicles (AVs). "AVs do not speed, drive impaired, or become distracted," according to the group.