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US traffic deaths fell 3.6% in 2023, the 2nd straight yearly drop. But nearly 41,000 people died

DETROIT (AP) — U.S. traffic deaths fell 3.6% last year, but still, almost 41,000 people were killed on the nation’s roadways, according to full-year estimates by safety regulators.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it was the second year in a row that fatalities decreased. The agency also released final numbers for 2022 on Monday, saying that 42,514 people died in crashes.

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NHTSA Deputy Administrator Sophie Shulman said that traffic deaths declined in the fourth quarter of last year, marking the seventh straight quarterly drop that started with the second quarter of 2022.

The declines come even though people are driving more. Federal Highway Administration estimates show that Americans drove 67.5 billion more miles last year than the previous year, a 2.1% increase. The death rate per 100 million miles driven fell to 1.26 last year, down from 1.33 in 2022, NHTSA said.

Authorities have said that even with a decline, the number of deaths is still too high. Shulman blamed the problem in part on distracted driving. In 2022, an estimated 3,308 people were killed in crashes that involved distracted drivers, while 289,310 were injured.

Almost 20% of people killed in distracted driving crashes were people outside of vehicles including pedestrians, bicyclists and others, she said.

“Distracted driving is extremely dangerous,” she said while kicking off a rebranded campaign against it called “Put the Phone Away or Pay.” The agency will start an advertising campaign this month, and law enforcement officers will crack down on the behavior in a campaign from April 4 to 8.

Traffic deaths spiked in 2021 with a 10.5% increase over 2020 as people started driving more as the COVID-19 pandemic started to ease. That was the highest number since 2005 and the largest percentage increase since 1975.

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At the time, authorities blamed the increase on speeding and more reckless behavior, as well as distracted driving.

Part of the increase in crash deaths then was due to people driving more as the coronavirus pandemic waned. NHTSA reported that the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled increased 2.2% to 1.37 in 2021.

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