US traffic deaths fall in early 2024 but above pre-COVID levels

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. traffic deaths fell 3.2% in the first three months of 2024 — the lowest number since the same period in 2020 — but crash fatalities still remain sharply above pre-COVID levels.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Monday estimated 8,650 people died in traffic crashes through March 31 this year, which is still significantly higher than the 7,901 people killed in the first three months of 2020. Traffic deaths spiked after the start of COVID-19 and remain elevated but have fallen for two consecutive years.

U.S. traffic deaths fell by 3.6% in 2023, the second straight yearly decline, but are still significantly above pre-pandemic levels, auto safety regulators said on Monday.

Fatalities remain much higher than the 36,355 people killed in 2019. At the time, traffic deaths had fallen for three straight years. The fatality rate in the first quarter fell but still was higher for the three-month period in any pre-pandemic year since 2008.

As U.S. roads became less crowded during the COVID-19 pandemic, some motorists perceived police as less likely to issue tickets, experts said, likely resulting in riskier behavior on the roads.

U.S. traffic deaths jumped 10.5% in 2021 to 42,915, the highest number killed on American roads in a single year since 2005.

In 2022, the number of pedestrians killed rose 0.7% to 7,522, the most since 1981. The number of cyclists killed rose 13% to 1,105 in 2022, the most since at least 1980.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by William Maclean)

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