Less driving but more deaths: Spike in traffic fatalities puzzles lawmakers

Tim Henderson | (TNS)

Traffic deaths are lingering near historic highs in most states despite less driving overall, prompting policymakers to consider deploying more police or installing automated monitoring such as speed cameras to curb speeding and reckless driving.

People are driving fewer miles than they were in 2019, but more are dying on roadways. Traffic deaths spiked 18% from 2019 to 2022 — though miles traveled fell 3%, according to a Stateline analysis of federal records from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Experts blame bad driving habits that took hold when roadways suddenly cleared out as the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020. At the same time, law enforcement agencies shifted their priorities away from traffic violations and many struggled to hire officers amid heightened scrutiny and criticism, especially after a police officer killed George Floyd in May 2020 in Minneapolis.

States and cities are trying to reduce the number of deaths caused by risky driving with a mix of more police officers and controversial technologies such as speed and red-light cameras. But many critics see those approaches as potentially troublesome, since traffic tickets are a heavier financial burden on low-income drivers. And others say cameras violate people’s privacy and right to due process.

“Law enforcement has really stepped back from enforcing traffic laws,” said Jonathan Adkins, CEO of the Governors Highway Safety Association. “We have to get police back out there and get support for police back. But this has to be done the right way, and it has to be done fairly. And we do want to look at technology — cameras don’t see race, they don’t see gender.”

The nation’s two most populous states, California and Texas, have taken different paths. In October, California approved a speed camera pilot program, to begin next year. Texas hasn’t reconsidered its 2019 ban on local speed and red-light cameras, but state transportation officials have asked local police to step up ticketing. Police in Fort Worth ramped up enforcement in response to residents’ complaints about reckless drivers, according to press reports, writing 12,000 tickets for speeding and careless driving between November 2022 and April 2023.

Traffic deaths were up 18% in California and 24% in Texas between 2019 and 2022, the latest full year available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In Washington state, traffic fatalities were up 38% last year compared with 2019, reaching a 30-year high. In response, the state is considering expanding its limited speed camera use. State officials plan a visit to Finland next month to see how that country used automated enforcement to reduce traffic deaths.

“When people see a sign, ‘Speed Camera Ahead,’ they slow down,” Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said in a June interview with the Washington State Standard.

Nationally, most of the change in fatal accidents has been caused by speeding, careless driving and drug or alcohol use, according to federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System data from 2019 to 2021, the latest year available from that source.

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Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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