US traffic fatalities began to climb two years ago and that deadly trend is continuing in 2022.
Roadway deaths rose 7 per cent during the first three months of the year to 9,560, the highest number for a first quarter in two decades, estimates by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed.
Traffic deaths have risen ever since pandemic lockdowns eased in 2020, as people returned to work and started taking more road trips.
People drove about 65 billion more kilometres in the first quarter than a year earlier, a 5.6 per cent increase, the agency said.
But the rate of traffic deaths per 160 million kilometres travelled also increased during the quarter, from 1.25 deaths, to 1.27, it added.
Before 2020, the number of fatalities had fallen for three consecutive years.
The government has blamed the increase on speeding, impaired driving and other reckless behaviour, and it has pledged to fund investments in speed enforcement and to build safer roads.
“The overall numbers are still moving in the wrong direction,” agency administrator Steven Cliff said in a prepared statement. “Now is the time for all states to double down on traffic safety.”
The agency has started running advertisements urging people to slow down and not to drive while impaired. On Wednesday, it announced the annual national impaired driving enforcement programme with local police for the weeks around the Labour Day holiday.
About 43,000 people were killed on US roads last year, the highest number in 16 years.
Traffic deaths rose 10.5 per cent last year over 2020, the largest percentage increase since agency began its fatality data collection in 1975. It will release final numbers for 2021 in the autumn.
NHTSA's fatality estimates are usually close to the actual numbers.
Mr Cliff, who was confirmed by the Senate to run the agency three months ago, is leaving his position next month to run the California Air Resources Board, which regulates pollution. Chief Counsel Ann Carlson will run the agency until a new administrator is nominated.